California issues draft proposals to improve refinery safety

California’s interagency refinery safety working group, which the state formed following a fire at Chevron USA’s Richmond plant in August 2012, released a draft report outlining steps and recommendations to improve public and worker safety at and near refineries in the state.

Proposed actions in the July 11 document include creating an interagency refinery taskforce within California’s Environmental Protection Agency to coordinate agencies’ activities, strengthening regulations and developing new ones to address underlying causes of safety problems, increasing public output in developing emergency response plans, and improving alerts and public access to information during emergencies.

“Getting the Interagency Refinery Task Force up and running will be our top priority,” Cal/EPA Secretary Matt Rodriquez said. “We want to put the recommendations of the report into effect as soon as possible to protect worker and public safety at the state’s refineries.”

The working group met over 8 months to examine ways to improve public and worker safety through enhanced oversight of refineries, and to strengthen emergency preparedness in anticipation of any future incident, officials said. It met with a wide variety of industry, labor, community and environmental groups, academic institutions, local emergency response units, and other stakeholders.

The report assesses the state of refinery safety in California with input from those stakeholders, a Rand Corp. study, and findings by the state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA), the US Chemical Safety Board, and Chevron’s own internal investigation.

Rafael Moure-Eraso, US Chemical Safety Board chairman, applauded the report’s release. “[It] effectively outlines the process of adopting several of [CSB’s] recommendations from our interim investigation report on the Aug. 6, 2012, explosion and fire at the Chevron refinery in Richmond,” he said on July 12. “These recommendations include requiring refineries to implement inherently safer systems and conduct damage mechanism hazard reviews.”

Further alignment

The report’s proposal to create a state interagency taskforce aimed at improving coordination of oversight and enforcement activities by regulatory agencies, and facilitating information sharing is aligned with a CSB recommendation contained in its interim report to the California State Legislature, he added.

“I would like to further commend plans to hire additional safety inspectors to triple inspection capacity following the Aug. 6, 2012, incident at the Chevron refinery and ensure that all recommendations are fully implemented,” Moure-Eraso said. “The proposed activities on the state’s behalf are a very positive step towards preventing future incidents there, and help to establish California as a national leader in refinery and process safety.”

California officials said the office of Gov. Jerry Brown (D) already has directed relevant agencies to begin the process of changing regulations to act on the proposed recommendations. They said those actions include hiring another 15 Cal/OSHA inspectors and ancillary personnel, which is funded in the state budget, to review refineries and chemical plants under the process safety management program.

The California Air Resources Board, in collaboration with the California Air Pollution Control Officers Association, will release a report developed in parallel with the interagency working group report focused on toxic air contaminant monitoring to improve knowledge and information sharing for air data in the event of an incident, officials indicated.

Future coordination and implementation of the recommendations will ultimately be led by the interagency refinery task force within Cal/EPA, they said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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