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Exxon Mobil refinery explosion in California injures four

19 February 2015

An explosion and fire in a gasoline processing unit at the Exxon Mobil refinery in Torrance, California, near Los Angeles slightly injured four workers and shattered windows of surrounding buildings, local authorities said. Torrance Mayor Patrick Furey told local television station KNBC that people who live near the refinery should take stay indoors and keep the windows closed.

Stock image
Stock image

According to Reuters, investigators were trying to determine the cause of the blast, which occurred shortly before 9 a.m.  on February 18. Torrance Fire Capt. Steve Deuel said the incident may have been caused by refinery workers activating a flare system to deal with a petroleum product leak.

"All personnel have been accounted for," Exxon Mobil said in a statement. "Four contractors have been taken to Long Beach Medical Center for evaluation for minor injuries."

The California Department of Industrial Relations opened a probe into the blast, agency spokeswoman Julia Bernstein said. The workplace safety agency issued an order forbidding Exxon Mobil from operating the 100,000-barrel-per-day fluid catalytic cracker - a central gasoline-producing unit - until the investigation is complete, Bernstein said.

The department said the shutdown of the unit could last up to six months.

The refinery has a capacity of 155,000 barrels per day, according to Exxon Mobil. It occupies 750 acres (300 hectares) and has 650 employees and 550 contractors.

Trade publication OPIS, citing an unidentified source, reported that an electrostatic precipitator (ESP), which reduces fluid catalytic cracker particulates, exploded as contract workers were doing maintenance on the nearby fluid catalytic cracking unit, or FCC.

"Contractors working on the FCC to fix the expanders," the source said, adding that an injection of ammonia on top of the flue gas stream caused a pressure buildup, which resulted in the ESP unit explosion. The unit could take up to a year to replace, the source said.

The incident came after the United Steelworkers walked out of 11 facilities, including nine refineries accounting for 13 percent of U.S. production capacity, after negotiations on a national contract stalled on Feb. 1. One of the central issues, according to the union, is employee safety.

Torrance has not been involved in the walkouts.

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