Benicia mayor wants to know why Valero refinery didn't shut down sooner

BENICIA, Calif. (KGO) -- Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson says two incidents in two years seems too many for her town, the one nestled beneath the Valero refinery, which is now going through a temporary shutdown.

"Those incidents are not a good sign," said Patterson. "My primary concern is we get this under control and the city stops being subject to this kind of breakdown at Valero."

Patterson wondered why it took so long for Valero to decide to shut down the plant.

RELATED: Air advisory in Benicia lifted after air quality improves

Over the weekend, a two-week-old problem with a gas scrubber turned into an emergency, as black smoke billowed from a section of the plant.

"Saturday night was bad to the point that we started getting positive hits on our particulate monitors to the point it was starting to get unhealthy," said Benicia Fire Chief Josh Chadwick.

In May of 2017, a power outage caused a huge flare, that rained oily residue down on businesses, homes and cars.

This time, the city activated its Emergency Operations Center and Valero had a representative in the room according to City Councilman Tom Campbell.

"I think they actually really did a pretty good job," said Campbell. "I went down to see how the emergency operations center was operating yesterday afternoon and everything seemed to be going exactly the way it was supposed to go."

On Sunday, Valero put out a statement about the temporary shutdown.

"During this time, there may be a visible plume and flaring as part of the shutdown process. Valero, along with the City of Benicia and regulatory agencies, will continue to conduct air monitoring in the area to assure protection of the community."

Nonetheless, Valero has been slapped with 12 violations from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, six for visible emissions and six more for creating a public nuisance. The fines are yet to be determined.

"It is public health at the end of the day, it is public safety at the end of the day," said Patterson. "And we need to make sure that things function properly."

Besides being mayor, Patterson is part of a group called "Elected Officials to Support America," which supports an end to the issuance of permits for new fossil fuel projects in California.

Valero officials say residents may see flaring for the next several days. But, they haven't said how long the temporary shutdown will last.
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