For Immediate Release
February 17, 2022
Seven years ago, residents in the South Bay/Harbor area witnessed a near catastrophic accident when an explosion took place on the property of the Torrance refinery. Heavy debris from the explosion fell just short of releasing thousands of pounds of pressurized Modified Hydrofluoric Acid (MHF) – a release that would have put the lives of refinery workers and residents within six miles of the refinery in jeopardy.
In those seven years, one thing has remained the same: The Torrance Refinery still uses MHF in its refining processes. MHF is a highly toxic chemical that is used to make high-octane gasoline. It can form a dense ground-hugging cloud that poses mortal danger to anyone who comes in contact with it. An accidental release during refinery operations can be catastrophic and result in mass casualties. The Torrance Refinery and the Valero Refinery in Wilmington are the only two refineries in California that use MHF.
However, much has changed in those seven years — much that gives concerned residents cause for optimism.
When the February 2015 explosion occurred at the Torrance refinery, the only commercially available alternative to MHF in the refining of high-octane gasoline was sulfuric acid, the catalyst used by California’s other eight refineries. Sulfuric acid poses its own risks, but since it cannot form a vapor at ambient temperature, all credible experts agree it does not pose the kind of catastrophic risk posed by MHF. However, in the intervening seven years, other processes have been developed that have been deemed considerably safer than sulfuric acid — for example, Chevron’s ISOALKY ionic-liquid process, which now replaces hydrofluoric acid in Chevron’s Salt Lake City refinery. There are other such technologies in various stages of development, albeit not all of them have reached the stage of commercial implementation as has the Chevron process, which is being implemented in five other refineries worldwide.
In 2019, the South Coast AQMD halted its attempt at writing a rule to require the phase-out of MHF, but stipulated they would periodically review the new technologies to determine whether to mandate the phase-out of MHF in favor of one of the new technologies. Clear evidence supports such a review, and given the success of some of those safer alternative technologies, local residents are encouraged that such reopening of the rule-making process is imminent.
In these seven years, Congressmembers Ted Lieu, Nannette Barragán, Maxine Waters, and Alan Lowenthal; Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi; State Senator Ben Allen; and Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia have supported transitioning to safer alkylation technologies. A number of local Cities, including Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, and Carson have supported transition, as have numerous local Neighborhood Councils, Homeowner Associations, and local environmental justice organizations.
On February 15, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved Supervisor Janice Hahn’s motion authorizing a “five-signature letter from the Board of Supervisors to Governor Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta calling on the State to take all possible actions to require refineries in California to convert from MHF to safer alternatives,” and “directing the County of Los Angeles to support any new State or Federal legislation that requires refineries to convert from MHF to safer alternatives; and authorize the County’s Sacramento and Washington D.C. advocates to take all appropriate legislative advocacy actions to advance this effort.”
Momentum continues to build for phasing out MHF in favor of a much safer, proven alternative that can allow the Torrance Refinery and the Valero Refinery in Wilmington to continue producing the gasoline and jet fuel the region’s residents need, as well as the jobs and economic benefits the region so benefits from. The elimination of MHF will provide safety from death — as well as day-to-day peace of mind — for hundreds of refinery workers, their families, and for thousands of others at risk in the community.
About The Torrance Refinery Action Alliance, Inc.
Now a 501(c)(4) social welfare nonprofit, TRAA was formed after an explosion on February 18, 2015, at the ExxonMobil Torrance Refinery (now PBF Energy’s Torrance Refining Company) rocked Torrance and rained pollutant dust downwind for miles.