Refineries take steps to ensure earthquake safety
By Jeff Shuttleworth, Bay City News Service
April 15, 2006
Most people probably wouldn't want to be near an oil refinery
or a chemical plant when a big earthquake strikes.
But East Bay refineries and health officials believe they've
done a good job of minimizing potential health and safety problems
if the big one comes.
Randy Sawyer, the director of Contra Costa County's hazardous
materials programs, said refineries and chemical plants are required
to conduct seismic safety assessments and follow state guidance
to prevent catastrophic releases of dangerous materials if there's
a maximum-level earthquake.
He said the county also has programs in place to prevent accidental
Sawyer said in the event of a major earthquake, his agency will
use every communication means possible to warn county residents
of any health problems, including sirens, automated phone calls
and a pocket radio system.
Because a major temblor could disrupt local phone service, Contra
Costa County officials have arranged for out-of-state callers
in Tennessee or Arizona to phone county residents about any problems.
Sawyer said telephone service would be unpredictable and the
out-of-state callers can make 500 calls at a time.
Contra Costa County officials also would notify the state Office
of Emergency Services as well as news media such as Bay City News
Service and KCBS-AM, he said.
In the event of health concerns, county officials likely would
tell residents to shelter in place, shut their windows and doors
and minimize phone use so phone lines aren't overwhelmed, Sawyer
Spokesman Mike Marcy of Tesoro's Golden Eagle refinery in Martinez
said that while the facility dates back to 1913, it's been upgraded
extensively over the years to make it more seismically safe.
Marcy said the refinery has been through a number of moderate
earthquakes but so far it's never had to completely shut down.
Marcy said that following a seismic survey in 1988, Golden Eagle
officials made structural modifications and seismic upgrades to
better anchor the most critical places at the refinery, such as
propane storage tanks and feed tanks for crude oil distillation
In addition, Tesoro has built a containment berm around crude
oil tanks to prevent the collapse and release of their contents,
Also, pipes for tanks have been retrofitted, March said.
The Golden Eagle refinery has the capacity to make 168,000 barrels
of oil per day, making it the second-largest refinery in the Bay
The largest is Chevron's refinery in Richmond, which has a capacity
of 350,000 barrels per day.
Sawyer said the Golden Eagle refinery could be vulnerable because
it's less than a mile from the Concord fault. However, he noted
that the Concord fault isn't as big as the Hayward fault.
Marcy said, "We're well aware that we're situated in a seismically
active part of the world," but he said company officials
take some comfort in that the National Science Foundation has
estimated that there's only a 4 percent chance of a quake of 6.7
magnitude or higher on the Concord fault between now and the year
Marcy said Tesoro has its own firefighting equipment and is a
member of the Bay Area Petrochemical Mutual Aid Organization,
which is a group of refineries and other organizations that band
together to deal with problems with dangerous releases.
Tesoro also has "long-established procedures to alert the
community,'' Marcy said.
Although the refinery has never been completely shut down, Marcy
said Tesoro drills on shutdown procedures to take the refinery
off-line safely if necessary.
He said that if the refinery had to be shut down, the company
would flare off-gases.
Marcy said Tesoro would continue to operate after a large earthquake,
even if the refinery had to shut down, and it has emergency call-out
procedures to notify employees about coming to work.
He said one of the company's biggest challenges would be feeding
its employees because it doesn't have a cafeteria.
Officials at the Shell refinery in Martinez and the Chevron refinery
in Richmond couldn't be reached for comment on their plans for
dealing with earthquakes.
Sawyer said Chevron has its own hazardous materials team and
can assist the city of Richmond in dealing with any problems.
Sawyer said Contra Costa County does seismic safety assessments
for chemical plants as well as for refineries.
He said that among the facilities the county monitors is the
Dow Chemical plant in Pittsburg, which produces agricultural and
pest-control products and has large amounts of chlorine.
Sawyer said the county also watches General Chemical's plant
in Bay Point, which has hydrogen fluoride.
In addition, the county monitors hydrogen fluoride and oleum
produced at General Chemical's plant in Martinez, he said.
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