Incident at Nipomo Mesa oil refinery causes flare, smoke

clambert@thetribunenews.comMay 6, 2014 

Phillips 66 officials said an unscheduled shutdown of a unit Thursday morning at the Nipomo Mesa refinery led to a flare that was spotted by some South County residents.

In a statement, the company said there was an unscheduled shutdown at the refinery’s steam power plant for about two hours. As a result, fuel gas was directed to the refinery’s flare, resulting in visible flaring, according to the statement. The cause of the shutdown is still under investigation.

No injuries were reported, said spokesman Dennis Nuss, a senior adviser for Phillips 66 based in Houston.

Company officials said Phillips 66 personnel were dispatched off-site to monitor air quality, and notifications were made to regulators.

“We do air quality monitoring outside the refinery gates to see if there is any impact to air quality, and there was no measurable impact,” Nuss said.

Aeron Arlin-Genet, manager of planning and outreach at San Luis Obispo County’s Air Pollution Control District, said the refinery reported the incident within four hours as required. The air district is continuing to investigate.

Phillips 66 has 10 calendar days to provide a written report on the shutdown and why it occurred. Arlin-Genet said the air district has not received it yet.

Three staff members conducted visual and odor observations on the Nipomo Mesa that day and reported the plume and smoke headed offshore and to the north, thanks to offshore wind conditions that day, she said.

In addition, all three monitoring stations on the Nipomo Mesa did not measure any impacts from the shutdown, she said.

A few residents took photos of the flare Thursday morning from various locations.

“There was a black cloud that covered the Mesa and then traversed U.S. 1 and Via Concha” where he snapped a photo, Nipomo Mesa resident Laurance Shinderman said.

Shinderman and some other residents oppose a rail project proposed by Phillips 66 to allow the refinery to receive crude oil by rail for processing.

The company anticipates unloading up to five trains a week with about 80 tank cars each, with a maximum of about 250 trains arriving each year.

A draft environmental impact report for the project is being revised. County planners received about 800 comments on the draft EIR and decided to revise the document to include some of the questions they raised.

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