Here's why 2 East Bay refinery flaring incidents in 1 week are concerning

ByRyan Curry, Lena Howland KGO logo
Friday, December 1, 2023
Here's why 2 East Bay refinery flarings in 1 week are concerning
Bay Area experts explain what a refinery flaring is why it should concern the public.

MARTINEZ, Calif. (KGO) -- Flaring from the Martinez Refining Company continued Wednesday night into Thursday morning. It started around 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday evening and continued off and on until about 7 a.m. the following morning.

"I went out to my back deck and that's where I saw the flaring going on," Marcial Barrera Jr., a neighbor said. "I looked down at my phone to see if there was any kind of communications from the refinery sent to the community and there wasn't."

Barrera Jr. had a front row seat to the flames, which lit up the sky for the better part of Wednesday night.

He closed up all his doors and windows and made sure all pets were brought inside, worried about potential health impacts.

RELATED: Flaring reported at Martinez refinery day after class action lawsuit proposed

"Concerned about not only me and my family, but also my neighbors, people in our community and also our pets too," he said.

The Martinez Refining Company said the flaring first came from an operational incident.

They say the appropriate agencies were notified, and a community notification was given.

"We have been maintaining clean combustion during the flaring, and ground-level air monitoring has shown normal measurements," a spokesperson for the Martinez Refining Company said in a statement.

This is now the third flaring incident just over a year company from this refinery. It is the second flaring in the Bay Area this week after Chevron also had a flaring incident.

RELATED: Flaring at Richmond Chevron refinery caused by partial power loss at facility, officials say

So what is flaring?

According to the American Petroleum Institute, flaring happens to alleviate pressure. When natural gas pressure builds, burning the natural gas is better for the environment than letting the gas into the air. However, flaring still releases many toxic chemicals into the air.

"Like the burning of any fossil fuel, flaring releases pollutants," said Michael Schmeltz, a faculty member with Cal State East Bay's Public Health Department. "This can be methane, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides, VOCs."

Chemicals than can be dangerous if people are exposed to certain levels of it.

"Those closest to these facilities are usually, unfortunately the ones most burdened by those environmental hazards," Schmeltz said.

Residents in Martinez have already been concerned over the recent flaring at the refinery. Two residents filed a lawsuit this week, claiming PBF Energy, which owns the Martinez Refining Company, was not transparent about its two other flaring events. The lawyers for the plaintiffs say they plan to add this recent flaring event to the lawsuit.

RELATED: Class action lawsuit proposed against Martinez Refining Company for chemical releases

Members of congress want state and county officials to closely monitor this refinery.

"There is a long history at this particular refinery of flaring, of emissions, of various kinds being sent into the air and contaminating the communities nearby," said Rep. John Garamendi. "That has got to stop."

Garamendi says as long as we continue to use fossil fuels, the oil companies running these refineries have to be more mindful of people's health.

"Our economy, we still are using the petroleum products that come from the refineries," he said. "As long as that is going on, these refineries have to operate safely."

Contra Costa Health says there was no public health impact as a result of the flaring incident.

VIDEO: No public health impacts from 14-hour Martinez flaring incident, officials say

Contra Costa Health says there was no public health impact from the flaring incident that happened at Martinez Refinery on Wednesday.

In response, the Martinez Refining Company said it expects "intermittent flaring" to continue while their employees work to address these issues.

"I want to make it clear that nobody wants flaring to occur at the refinery but it's important for people to understand when it is flaring, because that means that the refinery safety system is working and that someone is working to rectify the issue," said Martinez Mayor Brianne Zorn.

Zorn confirms a notice was sent out on Wednesday, but only to those signed up for the Martinez Alert System - a program Zorn says was just rolled out by the city over the summer.

"We made it very clear that over the past couple of months, since we had the spent catalyst release from this refinery almost a year ago, that we need to get communication out to our community for even lower level alerts," she said. "So I cannot stress enough for folks in our community to sign up for Martinez alerts."

You can sign up for those alerts right away here.

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