On the five-year anniversary of the Torrance refinery explosion, the Torrance Refinery Action Alliance (TRAA) announced a campaign urging Governor Gavin Newsom to request Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra’s office to investigate — based on newly available irrefutable evidence — the lack of basis for two legal processes that allow the Torrance Refining Company and Wilmington’s Valero Refinery to use massive amounts of hydrogen fluoride that imperil the surrounding communities. An investigation is the essential precursor to a lawsuit by the State Attorney General to ban the use of HF in the refineries.
The campaign was kicked off with the delivery of the letter below from the six-member TRAA Science Advisory Panel to Governor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday, February 18, 2020 — the 5th Anniversary of the February 18, 2015 Torrance Refinery Explosion. It will continue over the next several months with TRAA enlisting elected officials of the affected region, city and neighborhood councils, community organizations, and members of the community to add their voices to call for an investigation. TRAA will continue to inform the public of the danger posed by the refineries and the deceptive information and science that they continue to disseminate. The TRAA Science Advisory Panel will stand by to assist Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra’s Staff in the investigation.
Background and Rationale
The full realization of the hazard of hydrogen fluoride (HF) as an alkylation catalyst in refineries happened in the 1986 Nevada HF release tests conducted for Amoco by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory under the direction of Dr. Ronald Koopman. The results surprised and shocked the engineering community — 100% of the HF liquid released under refinery conditions formed a ground-hugging cloud of aerosol and vapor. Contrary to what was anticipated, none fell to the ground. Watch Dr. Koopman’s illuminating presentation to the AQMD Refinery Committee.
The refineries’ primary response was an additive they relentlessly and falsely claim results in the majority of an HF release falling to the ground, in spite of the fact that the additive has to be kept at such a low level it is ineffective.
Over the last three decades, in a David-and-Goliath struggle between the innovation of converting to a vastly safer alkylation catalyst and the South Bay refineries’ clinging to the status quo — hoping a calamitous event beyond their control won’t release their store of HF into the community — the refineries have won at every turn: 1) the 1989 Walker Initiative, 2) the 1990 Torrance lawsuit settled in a consent decree allowing the Torrance refinery to use HF, 3) the original 1991 AQMD 1410 Rule overturned on a clerical error, 4) the AQMD/Ultramar MOU allowing Valero to use HF, 5) two bills in the State Assembly that died in committee, and 6) the recent collapse of the second AQMD Rule 1410.
Innovation at loggerheads with the status quo is a subject of the celebrated book Men, Machines, and Modern Times by Elting Morrison (1909–1995), renowned Professor of Science and Technology at MIT. The book, based on a series of famous lectures Morrison gave at Caltech, sets out a roadmap for progress illustrated by a case study of an innovation around 1900 that greatly increased the accuracy of guns on U.S. Navy warships and the Navy’s opposition to it. The innovation/status-quo deadlock was broken in favor of innovation only when the issue was elevated to a higher level of authority, Theodore Roosevelt, the President of the United States at the time. TRAA won’t be elevating the HF issue to the current (45th) holder of the office of President. Instead, TRAA is elevating the issue to the informed leadership of Governor Gavin Newsom and Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra.
The Letter to Governor Newsom
February 18, 2020
Governor Gavin Newsom
1303 10th Street, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814
Dear Governor Newsom:
The Torrance Refinery Action Alliance (TRAA) applauds your leadership in asking Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra’s office to investigate whether California’s oil and gas suppliers are involved in price-fixing or other unfair practices, as reported in the Los Angeles Times.
There is, however, a far graver concern that needs to be investigated. On this five-year anniversary of the Torrance refinery explosion, we urge you to request an investigation of how, over the last three decades, two refineries in Southern California’s South Bay — the Torrance Refining Company and Valero in Wilmington — have been allowed to use massive quantities of hydrogen fluoride (HF), one of the world’s most dangerous industrial chemicals.