CARB calls for improved monitoring around refineries, communities

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) released a report on Mar. 20 that recommends improved routine and emergency air monitoring at major refineries and in nearby communities in the state.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) released a report on Mar. 20 that recommends improved routine and emergency air monitoring at major refineries and in nearby communities in the state.

“The recommendations in this report will help to better assess and reduce the risks associated with long-term community exposure to routine and fugitive air releases,” CARB Executive Officer Richard W. Corey said in Sacramento. “They also improve the rapid detection and communication of potentially hazardous releases during an emergency.”

The report outlined a four-part approach for improving air monitoring, modeling, and communication around California’s 18 refineries, which have a nearly 2 million b/d combined throughput capacity:

• Expand air monitoring within refineries, at the fence line, and in nearby communities.

• Improve modeling techniques to better predict impacts of pollution and incidents at refineries.

• Provide real-time information about air quality near refineries to first responders and the public.

• Improve state and local coordination through an interagency refinery monitoring working group.

The report, which CARB prepared with the California Air Pollution Control Officers Association (representing the state’s 35 local air districts), also recommended that first responders have access to improved air monitoring tools and data and be thoroughly trained to apply them.

CARB said the report was part of a broader initiative set in place in 2013 to address refinery safety and emissions in response to a major fire in 2012 at the Chevron refinery in Richmond (OGJ Online, Aug. 13, 2012).

The fire raised concerns related to refinery maintenance and safety, and emergency preparedness at and near California’s refineries, the state agency said. Air regulators presented a draft of the report, released in fall 2017, at a series of meetings in California communities most affected by potential and actual refinery emissions, it said.

The final report’s recommendations aim to strike a balance between local implementation of stronger air monitoring and communication systems, and state oversight, CARB indicated. A proposed interagency working group, comprised of staff members from CARB and local air districts, would develop guidelines that air districts use in requiring refineries to expand air monitoring networks and making the data available to first responders and the public.

The refinery-focused guidance could serve as a future template for similar air monitoring around other types of industrial sources that pose a risk to nearby communities, the agency suggested.

Already addressing findings

It said California already has begun to address some of the report’s findings and recommendations. Several recent California statutes and regulations now improve refinery emergency preparedness, require community air monitoring, improve notification systems, and establish permanent refinery oversight, it indicated.

CARB said one example was Assembly Bill 1647 in 2017 that includes new requirements for enhanced fence line and community-level air monitoring at and near refineries. It added that findings in the new report will be useful as CARB and air districts work with stakeholders to implement California’s Community Air Protection Program under AB 617, which was enacted the same year.

The CARB-CAPCOA report considered refinery chemicals of the highest concern as identified in a companion report that the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) also released on Mar. 20, CARB said.

It said that this report, “Analysis of Refinery Chemical Emissions and Health Effects,” presents a list of chemicals emitted from California refineries and prioritizes the chemicals according to their emissions levels and toxicity. OEHHA’s report covers emissions which occur routinely in daily operations, as well as potential emissions from an accidental or other nonroutine release, CARB noted.

The Western States Petroleum Association was studying the reports and did not have an immediate comment, a spokeswoman for the Sacramento-based organization told OGJ on Mar. 20.

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