Martinez Refining Company apologies for releases, reminds region of its importance

On a night when the city passed a resolution castigating the Martinez Refining Company for their performance over the last 12 months, the refinery’s manager issued a set of apologies and an acknowledgment that if the company doesn’t get its act together soon, the consequences could be dire.

“We understand that not only being a good neighbor, but truly our license depends on our ability to operate in a safe and responsible manner,” said Daniel Ingram, manager of the Martinez Refining company. “We don’t take these issues lightly.”

Ingram’s report included a more full accounting of the spent catalyst release last November, when residents woke up to a layer of fine white silt on their cars and window sills. The Martinez Refining Company, whose sprawling campus defines the east side of the city, said the release was “non-toxic,” “non-hazardous”, and “naturally occurring” spent catalyst dust used in the refining process.

Only days later did the County Health Department alert residents that the refinery emitted 20 tons of metal-contaminated dust. Over the past year, there have been several other releases from the refinery, although none as harmful or widespread as the incident in November.

Ingram said the spent-catalyst release was in part due to operator failure, when certain parameters on the control board were in manual instead of automatic mode. That is now required in training.

“Had a couple of those control points been in automated control, we could have prevented some of the reasons why we ultimately had the spent catalyst release,” Ingram said.

According to Ingram, 10 other “corrective actions” have since been put into place to prevent future releases–two associated with equipment, six procedural, and three associated with training.

Still, Martinez Mayor Brianne Zorn expressed disappointment that all of the changes were contained within one bullet point, rather than explicitly outlined.

Ingram said that was due to the actions being highly technical, rather than a lack of transparency. But one community activist, Heidi Taylor, referred to the presentation as “the run-around.”

Ingram also said all corrective actions had been instituted by July 31. But the refinery was responsible for another high profile release on October 6, the day of the local high school’s homecoming parade.

Throughout the report, Ingram positioned the refinery as a crucial player in the California energy economy, one that the state couldn’t do without. In his presentation, he noted that the Martinez Refining company manufactures 20% of the Bay Area’s gasoline supply and 40 % of the region’s jet fuel.

Although the refinery is currently facing a series of local and federal investigations, he emphasized that, were the refinery to close, there is no one else to make up for that loss in production.

Still, if the closure of the refinery is at stake, plenty of community members expressed in public comment that that would be an acceptable outcome.

“Shut them down until they prove they can follow the safety protocol,” said Florie Robnett. “We shouldn’t be guinea pigs, with all sorts of different cancers in 8 or 10 years.”

Prior to the report, the council voted unanimously to adopt a resolution that implored the refinery to “demonstrate its willingness to become a good neighbor,” in part by dropping its lawsuit against the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. The refinery is currently fighting a district law that limits the emissions of total particulate matter.

The case is scheduled to be heard on October 23. Martinez Refining Company apologies for releases, reminds region of its importance

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