Climate

Huge Explosion Rips Through California Oil Refinery, Adding Fuel To Oil Worker Strike

CREDIT: KTLV/Screenshot

A large flareoff at the ExxonMobil refinery in Torrence, California after an explosion on Wednesday.

A huge explosion occurred at the ExxonMobil oil refinery in Torrance, California on Wednesday morning, shaking the homes of residents miles away and injuring at least three people.

No serious injuries or deaths have been reported, and authorities are still looking into the cause of the explosion. Aerial photos of the refinery following the incident showed considerable damage. Large metal structures were ripped apart and nearby vehicles were destroyed. A good portion of the refinery was covered in grey ash.

Though fire from the explosion was quickly extinguished, Torrance residents are still being told to remain inside in part due to a resulting gasoline leak. “The most important thing is to shelter in place, stay indoors, no outdoor activity, turn the air conditioners off, keep the windows closed,” Torrance Mayor Patrick Furey told NBC.

The workers at the Torrance refinery are represented by United Steelworkers (USW), the same union leading unprecedented oil worker strikes nationwide. Those strikes, the largest of oil workers since 1980, are in part because of what the union sees as dangerous conditions, including leaks and explosions. The union asserts that these dangerous conditions are often caused by improper treatment of workers — unsafe staffing levels, bad training, absentee managment, and “flagrant contracting” number among the union’s complaints.

While the workers at the Torrance refinery were not striking, the local USW branch it is represented by — USW Local 675 — is, leading an ongoing strike at the nearby Tesoro oil refinery in Carson, California. On a phone interview with ThinkProgress on Wednesday, USW Local 675’s Secretary-Treasurer Dave Campbell said the explosion at Torrance drove home the need for action on behalf of all oil workers who often risk their lives to do their jobs.

“We ask all workers to bow their heads and pray. It has been a very emotional day,” he said. “And this is one hell of a way to have the point emphasized that we have been trying to make with these companies, trying to make with the public … these safety concerns that we have need to be taken seriously.”

About 30,000 workers at more than 200 refineries, terminals, and pipelines across the country are represented by USW. Though the strike is only partial right now — approximately 5,000 workers at 11 plants are striking now, according to Reuters — a full USW strike could disrupt as much as 64 percent of U.S. fuel output.

As for whether the ongoing strikes will go on longer or expand because of Wednesday’s explosion, Campbell said he said he’s not quite sure.

“I don’t know at this point. I’m not really thinking about that,” he said. “I do know that people are angry and upset, not quite sure if us giving 24 hours notice of going on strike helps — but a lot of people have the emotion that they want to do it, and we’ll see.”