ExxonMobil fined following probe into refinery explosion

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The California agency that investigates workplace accidents has cited and fined ExxonMobil more than $560,000 for workplace safety and health violations following a probe into February's explosion at a Los Angeles-area refinery.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health said Thursday that 18 of the 19 citations are classified as serious because the violations could potentially cause serious injury or death. Six of those serious violations were also classified as willful because Cal-OSHA found that Exxon did not take action to eliminate known hazardous conditions at the refinery and intentionally failed to comply with state safety standards.

ExxonMobil spokesman Todd Spitler said the company is reviewing the citations.

The Feb. 18 blast at the facility in Torrance slightly injured four contractors, heavily damaged equipment and rained a fine white ash on nearby homes and cars. State air-quality regulators confirmed that the ash was not toxic.

The explosion was caused by vapor leakage from a fluid catalytic cracker (FCC) unit into an electrostatic precipitator, according to Cal-OSHA. The FCC refines gasoline.

Management knew of potential fire or explosion hazards as a result of the leakage, and failed to correct the danger, the agency said in the report.

The FCC unit had not been working properly for as many as nine years before the blast, Cal-OSHA said.

The agency issued an order prohibiting use of the FCC unit on Feb. 18, and that order remains in effect until ExxonMobil can demonstrate that the unit is safe to operate.

The refinery is critical to producing California-grade gasoline — a specialized blend designed to meet the state's stringent air-pollution regulations.

ExxonMobil has 15 working days to appeal the citations to the Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board.