Exxon Mobil has been fined $566,600 in penalties over the blast at the company’s Torrance, California refinery in February that left four workers injured.
The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) issued Exxon Mobil 19 citations for workplace safety and health violations, most of them serious. The agency found Exxon Mobil failed to eliminate known hazards in the workplace and intentionally failed to comply with California safety standards.
Cal/OSHA department director Christine Baker was quoted by the Los Angeles Times as saying that companies like ExxonMobil have a “responsibility to keep workers safe” and the company had “severe lapses” in its safety protocols.
Petroleum refineries have the responsibility to keep workers safe, and to protect nearby communities and the environment. This investigation revealed severe lapses in Exxon’s safety protocols.
The investigation found that the February 18 explosion was caused by a hydrocarbon release from the fluid catalytic cracker (FCC) unit into a filtration device that removes particulates. The release of hydrocarbons resulted in the electrostatic precipitator exploding.
Four workers suffered minor injuries as a result of the blast. Cal/OSHA required Exxon to shut down the refinery until it could prove safe operations. This order is still in effect.
The investigation also found that Exxon management were aware the electrostatic precipitator could explode if there was a leak. A 2007 safety review noted concerns about a leak but the company did not fix it. Cal/OSHA also found the FCC unit was not functioning properly for 9 years, USA Today reported.
The Torrance refinery is important in the production of California-grade gasoline, which is blended to meet the state’s air pollution regulations.