News | May 11, 1999

CA Refinery Inspections for Pollution to Resume

California will reinstate its oil-refinery inspections for pollution starting in May. In early 1998 the state suspended the inspections saying that its staff was not trained properly to find certain violations.

Edwin Lowry, the new director of the Department of Toxic Substances Control, said he did not learn of the moratorium until he took the job in April.

Refineries are supposed to be inspected every two years according to an agreement with the U.S. EPA. However, several refineries have avoided inspections for considerably longer periods. The department cited the following inspection lapses:

  • Texaco's Southern California refinery, since 1993, for violations in oil-recovery operations.
  • Arco refinery in Wilmington, since March 1995, and
  • Tosco refinery in Wilmington in Los Angeles County, since January 1996.

The department also halted enforcement of violations at three Southern California refineries for lack of trained inspectors and the guidance documents to assist them, according to the story of the moratorium in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Western States Petroleum Association and its lobbying firm, Kahl/Pownall Associates, prior to the moratorium, had objected to the state's inspections as unfair.

At issue in the inspections is how the state should inspect parts of refineries in which water and petroleum products are mixed. Water is part of the refinery process called oil recovery.

The industry contended that state inspectors were treating water used in manufacturing as if it were a waste. At the point water becomes waste, it is subject to different environmental rules.

A spokesman for the U.S. EPA in San Francisco said the agency was not notified of the moratorium, although the state had told the EPA that it was delaying two regularly scheduled inspections