New Fire At Troubled Exxon Refinery Quickly Extinguished

CREDIT: PostTV/Screenshot

A fire rages from an explosion at the ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance, Calif. The explosion reportedly occurred near a fluid catalytic cracking unit.

The aftermath of an explosion at the ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance, California.

The aftermath of an explosion at the ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance, California.

CREDIT: NBC News/Screenshot

The Torrance fire department says that it quickly extinguished a fire at the local ExxonMobil refinery last night. The 155,000-barrel-a-day facility, which exploded on February 18th, has been operating at reduced capacity in recent weeks.

Torrance fire Captain Steve Deuel told ThinkProgress that the fire was possibly related to the larger explosion. “There was a cracked pipe which was leaking and was the cause of the incident,” he explained. “It was in the vicinity of the unit that failed in the explosion, so the pipe could have been damaged then and we just didn’t know it until now.”

Deuel said that the fire was contained and extinguished in a span of 15 minutes.

“This wasn’t a massive failure; it was a typical little flash fire that all refineries have,” he concluded.

ExxonMobil spokesmen claim that there was no impact on the refinery’s current operations, and that production was unaffected.

This accident comes on the heels of a troubling few weeks in Torrance, as the small southern California town continues to struggle with the fallout of the larger explosion. That incident shook the surrounding area with the equivalent of a 1.7 magnitude earthquake, and deposited ashen chemical waste on residential areas miles away.

Officials have been steadfast in their initial diagnosis of the incident, claiming that the fallout was not, in fact, toxic and would only produce minor, temporary, and benign itching and burning of the ears, eyes, and throat.

Still, state and federal legislators have raised a series of concerns in the ensuing weeks over the cause of the accident and its coordination and cleanup. Last Friday, Representatives Ted Lieu and Maxine Waters formally asked the U.S. Chemical Safety Board to investigate the refinery explosion. The CSB accepted the request, dispatching personnel to the refinery earlier this week.

Last Thursday, State Senators Ben Hueso and Bob Wieckowski convened a senate hearing in Torrance in order to explore community impacts and long-term safety. Representatives from ExxonMobil, the Torrance Fire department and the city council took turns addressing the standing room only crowd, though some residents were left underwhelmed.

“For me, it raised more questions than answers,” Sherry Lear, a local attorney, told ThinkProgress. “Only one local resident actually testified on the official panel, but we heard from 5 or 6 first responders and representatives from Exxon. I didn’t think it was set up to actually get word from the community, especially when public comment was limited to 1 minute per person.”

Representatives of the local labor force were also on hand. Dave Campbell, the Secretary-Treasurer for United Steelworkers Local 675, testified that the accident was emblematic of the health and safety concerns that inspired oil workers to engage in their largest national strike since 1980. “Refineries can be operated safely for both the workers and the public,” said Campbell. “The problem that we encounter is that, under a term called ‘management’s rights’, management makes decisions that are bad for workers, communities and bad for the investors in their companies”

Late on Thursday, the USW reached a tentative agreement with the oil industry to end the strike, agreeing to a new four-year contract with Shell Oil as a pattern agreement for the rest of the industry.

“Safety issues were central to the negotiations,” announced a USW press release. “The proposed agreement calls for the immediate review of staffing and workload assessments, with USW safety personnel involved at every facility. Daily maintenance and repair work in the plants was another critical issue that, too, was addressed.”