Solving the problem of the Torrance Refinery
– A Real Solution
By EcoAlert Agents
Melinda Pillsbury-Foster and Dave Lincoln
The identity of the party, or parties, responsible is the most important issue when investigating negligent behavior threatening harm to people, property, or both. Acting in blatant disregard for harm to others can be approached either as a civil or criminal matter depending on if the hazards were known and why the parties failed to act on a timely basis.
Consider the potential for liability faced by the corporations who have the Torrance Refinery, the governmental bodies who have allowed these conditions to continue after the potential impact on residents was clear to them.
Medical technologies now exist to document this impact on individuals.
The Torrance Refinery causes ongoing spillage of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC). A well-run refinery does not have flares. Torrance is experiencing multiple flares.
The Torrance Refinery stores Hydrofluoric Acid in two tanks. The most elementary form of security would have dictated this poisonous material be stored in many smaller tanks. This has been ignored. The LA times reported the MHF tank at Torrance Refinery as 250,000 pounds. Yet modeling for a potential spill was carried out for an explosion at 50,000 pounds of MHF.
If damaged mechanically the hydrofluoric Acid will be emitted, staying at ground level. The resulting vapor could kill 80,000 within 3 miles of the plant and injure the lungs, eyes, noses, and throats of 3-million Angelenos in a 15 mile radius. Depending on prevailing weather conditions this could reach downtown LA.
In early 2015 one of the tanks barely missed being struck by a falling semi-truck by two feet. These tanks are also vulnerable to damage by earthquakes. Sited between two international airports both tanks could be penetrated simultaneously and this says nothing about the potential for a terrorist attack on the facility, which is also possible and easily carried out.
Yet these alarming possibilities are being downplayed by the city of Torrance, claiming they are more worried about a mere 550 jobs.
Reflecting this cavalier attitude exhibited by all parties, except residents, Southern California Edison was required to pay $4 M in penalties, none of which will be received by residents impacted. Instead, the company gets to spend the money on improvements on the infrastructure for which they were supposed to be responsible as part of their cost of doing business. Grinch Christmas to them!
SCE will be purchasing an infrared monitor, proposed by EcoAlert in their recent proposal submitted to the AQMD – but if the pattern for petroleum companies continues, as previously observed for the last several decades, the real story will be manipulated by averaging the level of toxicity over several days with no specific information on the highs these levels reach.
The infrared images record when the levels are high and then where these materials fall. Those areas then need to be tested on the ground. This, is part of the EcoAlert plan.
There are 300 other gas facilities across the US with no infrared monitoring.
Taking out 25% of Los Angeles is worth about $3-trillion dollars, and local insurance companies covering medical, property, casualty, and funeral expenses will be required by their re-insurance coverage worldwide to raise rates to cover Catastrophe Bonds for this criminal negligence of not updating this plant to sulfuric acid methods that boil at 560-degrees Fahrenheit instead of the 73-degree temperature for hydrofluoric acid. This could take place on most days in the warm California sun.
The chemical’s modified additives to the H2F2 and HF merely raised its boiling point from 63F to 73F. Other rational interim measures would be to invest $300-million in smaller linked HF tanks with cut-off valves so only a few thousand die in Torrance or Wilmington which is the only other refinery in California not to update to sulfuric acid.
Residents have endured these conditions for decades.
Energy for only $595-million. Reason, the billion dollar insurance payment that ought to cover these disasters and liabilities' true cost. The likelihood residents have suffered levels of impact on their health is extremely likely, depending on individual conditions. These subtle dangers can now be established by infrared cameras and particulate meters to parts per billion by local people getting information to defend themselves from the hazards imposed by the owners of the Torrance Refinery and the governmental entities charged to oversee it.
Flares, taking place regularly, are authorized retroactively by the SCAQMD. Liability for actions taking place outside the charge of the few local governmental entities can be ascribed to the government employees taking the actions personally; if this represents a blatant abuse of their obligation to protect those they are appointed or elected to protect.
The storage of the Hydrofluoric Acid used for processing, which other facilities have abandoned because Hydrofluoric Acid is lethal and presents serious risks to life, has continued at the Torrance Refinery. The persuasion used to allow this to continue was the assertion by the Exxon they had formulated a modified form of the product which was less lethal. In fact, Modified Hydrofluoric Acid (HMF), is nearly the same in its potential for lethality.
Reassured by this misrepresentation, the use of Hydrofluoric Acid was tolerated. Fool local insurers once, shame on us. Not twice. Meager self-insurance in the Caribbean’s Cayman Islands by BPF Energy is inadequate in vast measure. The reinsurers will have to take measures quickly as wanton or deliberate neglect gets worse.
If excuses are given, reinsurers should buy it, shut it down, and either improve it or replace it with the first plant to produce sustainable fuel in California. This needs to happen and Torrance would benefit thereby.
The Parties Responsible
Two major petroleum companies merged to form what is known today as
ExxonMobil. All liabilities, known and unknown, were accepted as mutually binding as part of the merger. Their merger took place in 1998 and was approved by the FTC on November 30, 1999.
Exxon owned the Torrance Refinery at the time of the merger. From 1977 until that date the refinery experienced an explosion and fire with three deaths on December 1, 1979, a fire and explosion and ten injuries on November 1, 1987, a fire and explosion with nine injuries and one death on July 15, 1988, an explosion with 27 injuries on November 1, 1995, an explosion with 20 injuries on November 20, 1995, a leak causing three injuries on April 1, 1999, a death by falling on February 22, 2001, a leak on July 1, 2001, a death by electrocution on April 3, 2003, a death by steam on April 11, 2009, a flare on October 1, 2012, a fire and explosion with four injuries on February 18, 2015, and a leak on September 16, 2015, another leak a month later on October 15, 2015, and a flare on March 16, 2016.
The Torrance Refinery was sold to PBF Energy, Inc., on May 15, 2016.
The long-term relationship between ExxonMobil and the entity which now owns, as a subsidiary, the Torrance Refinery needs to be considered in the light of these conditions, which indicate the necessary maintenance was not carried out. During much of the time Exxon was operating the refinery its status is indicated as Sale Pending, indicating the company was interested in selling but could not find a purchaser.
The history of PBF Energy, Inc., provides interesting insights. Because PBF is only the most recent in a chain of corporations under the management of a man named Thomas O’Malley, who launched himself into the refinery business first in Europe and in America beginning in the YEAR following the action that needed careful attention to the chain of human control of the corporations utilized.
Thomas D. O’Malley formed Argus Resources, an oil and gas production company 1986. At around the same time O’Malley formed Argus Energy LLC, Argus Investments Inc., Argus Development LLC and many other companies based in Connecticut.
This marked O’Malley’s exit from operating refineries in Europe and his entry into the industry in America.
Now, we will watch, as if by magic, this one company sheds identities while keeping its essential persona and new business plan intact. The skin means nothing, it is the persons inside making the decisions. You will need the O’Malley CEO timeline to follow the metamorphosis and understand what is happening as Tom O'Malley provides essential services to the oil industry and becomes wealthy beyond his wildest dreams.
The business model followed is defined by the actions taken and nothing else.
In 1987, Thomas O’Malley and Argus Energy bought 26% of TOSCO and COMFED BANKCORP in Massachusetts. This mortgage lending company was a dubious investment.
Indictments for fraud began on January 15 1988.
A COMFED VP, Elizabeth Bourne-Johnson, was found fatally shot in the head in the trunk of her car in South Boston Mass, not a fate generally associated with the banking industry.
This same year, O’Malley purchased 40% of TOSCO and became Chairman of the COMFED S&L from 1988 to 1989; at which time he became Chairman and President of TOSCO and moved the headquarters to Connecticut.
Another brutal murder had occurred in Boston about the same time.
Bookie, John McDermott was fatally shot in the head in front of his son who was seriously injured. The son testified that the killer was William “Billy” Barnoski, the enforcer for James “Whitey” Bulger. Bulger was the mob boss, FBI informant and for 15 years their most wanted fugitive who was linked to at least 19 murders and was known to have operated in South Boston during the time the VP was murdered.
It has been speculated that someone in COMFED management who knew Whitey Bulger had Elizabeth Bourne-Johnson silenced because she knew too much about their policies or finances. No suspect was ever named.
By 1990, COMFED Savings Bank had its assets seized in Wakefield. The largest mortgage lender in New England was declared insolvent on Dec. 17th due to massive fraud. More than 30 managers and employees were arrested and charged with fraud and perjury including the bank’s lawyer.
The Hartford Courant reported that three banks in Connecticut acquired over $500-million in insured deposits for a discounted price of $1.5-million. Elizabeth Bourne-Johnson's murderer was never identified.
Under the control of Tom O'Malley, Tosco began a new lease on corporate life. We could not immediately see why O’Malley had purchased these companies. It appears likely O’Malley made a profit on Comfed Bancorp before it was declared insolvent – but the only assets associated with Tosco at the time were two problematic refineries.
Moribund and dangerous refineries became O’Malley’s stock in trade. He could have found a way to profit from insurance claims and tax deductions. But the accumulation of wealth for reasons not in evidence was obvious.
The company was about to experience an explosion in profits as the refineries themselves blew up.
The Shuffling Begins:
1986 – O'Malley incorporates ARGUS Investments - is CEO.
1987 - ARGUS Energy buys 26% of Tosco and Comfed Bancorp for – how much?
1988 – December 1 - O'Malley becomes CEO of Comfed Bankcorp
1988 - ARGUS Energy buys 40% of Tosco.
1989 – O'Malley becomes CEO of Tosco
1992 - TOSCO acquires EXXON Bayway Refinery, Linden, NJ for $175 million.
1993 - TOSCO acquires Ferndale Refinery- Washington State from BP.
1996 - TOSCO buys UNOCAL’s western operations for $1.3 Billion. Transfers of control will take place over several years.
This included: over 2500 Union 76 gas stations and Circle K stores and 7 Refineries.
The Formerly Magnificent Seven
The Los Angeles Refinery ("LAR") System, consisting of two linked refineries located in: Carson (built in 1923)
1996 – TOSCO acquires Wilmington Refinery, CA (built in 1919) from Unocal.
1996 – TOSCO acquires Trainer Refinery - is shutdown - restarted May 1997.
1996 – TOSCO acquires Rodeo Refinery (built in 1896) San Francisco Bay area, and
1997 - TOSCO acquires Avon Refinery, (built in 1915), Martinez, CA.
1997 - TOSCO acquired Santa Maria Refinery (built in 1955).
At the time of this purchase Avon, Rodeo and Wilmington Refineries had each experienced at least three fire and/or explosion incidents.
At this point, you might well ask “How did TOSCO, a struggling production company, get a bank to loan them more than $1 Billion to buy refineries more than 75 years old?” This is the essence of O’Malley’s strategy.
The inflated value of the assets was used as collateral on the loans. He convinced the banks, some of which he controlled, that the refineries were worth their replacement value rather than their actual depreciated value. To maintain this deception, all he had to do was to demonstrate how many barrels per day of products these old facilities could produce and that they could still operate at a profit. This dictated that every refinery purchased would be pushed to its maximum capacity, and operating costs would be kept to the minimum. Thus by delaying maintenance and cutting personnel to the bone, TOSCO could maximize profit and use the new assessed value to justify larger loans and purchase more distressed refineries.
The fallacy of these arguments was tragically revealed on January 22, 1997, when TOSCO’s Avon Refinery caught fire and a pipe blew up killing one worker and injuring 46. TOSCO waited more than a week to report the actual number of injured; meanwhile continuing to operate the units not directly impacted by the blast. TOSCO responded by buying the nearly 100-yr old Marcus Hook, PA Refinery from BP for $235 million dollars that same year. Why would a company expend money on further purchases when the refineries they owned needed repair and maintenance?
Then on February 23, 1999 the TOSCO Avon Refinery blew up again; killing 4 and seriously injuring one worker. This time, Thomas O’Malley, CEO of TOSCO apologized in person. The subsequent Chemical Safety Board (CSB) investigation found that the company attempted to replace a pipe in a 150 ft. tall fractionating tower while the unit was still operating. One surviving employee stated that plant managers had refused a request from oil workers to shut down the high temperature unit during repairs which ultimately spilled hot Naphtha onto the employees burning them to death. The CSB concluded the incident "could have been prevented by better management supervision of safety". The same year, TOSCO reported a fire at its Wilmington Refinery.
On February 29, 2000, TOSCO acquired and began operating an additional system of 1,740 gasoline and convenience outlets from EXXON. As a result of this purchase, TOSCO became one of the nation's largest operators of company-controlled convenience stores. Also, during that year, two more fires occurred at the TOSCO Avon Refinery; each time injuring another two workers. In addition, TOSCO reported a fire at its Rodeo Refinery.
In 2001, on the strength of TOSCO stock and its refining and marketing assets, Phillips paid $7.3 Billion in stock for TOSCO while assuming over $2 Billion in debt. O’Malley becomes Vice Chair and largest stockholder of Phillips.
In 2002, CONOCO merges with Phillips. O'Malley is not included in this corporate makeover. Instead, O’Malley becomes CEO of PREMCOR; a company that changed their name from Clark Refining Group after it was taken over by Blackstone Investments. The company’s main asset was the Clark Oil Refinery (built in 1943) on Blue Island near Chicago, Illinois. This refinery had already been plagued with problems including a fire in 1994 which resulted in an infamous toxic dust release. The dust forced the evacuation of a nearby high school, the hospitalization of 48 students for respiratory distress and an eventual PREMCOR $120 million settlement which involved 4000 residents.
This was followed a year later by a fire at the same refinery which killed two workers and injured 3 others and resulted in an out-of-court settlement of $12 million to the victims and their families.
Also in 2002, PREMCORP closed the Clark Refinery and paid the EPA $6.2-million in fines for environmental violations.
PREMCORP, now with O’Malley at the helm, responds by purchasing the 60-year-old Williams Refinery (built in 1941) in Memphis, Tenn. for $455 million. O’Malley characteristically moves PREMCORP headquarters from St. Louis, MO to Greenwich, CT. It then acquired two other small refineries, located in Lima, Ohio and Hartford, Illinois. Three more purchases of refineries.
By 2004, PREMCOR bought Saudi Shell Motiva Refinery in Delaware City, NJ for $900 million. The following year VALERO, one of the nation’s largest petroleum retailers, paid $7.4 Billion for PREMCORP. Another liability gap in value that should be suspicious today to Torrance residents and the heart of Los Angeles.
In May 2006, O’Malley joined PETROPLUS as CEO. At the time, the company was an international refiner based in Amsterdam with three relatively small refineries. They owned one each in 3 countries; Belgium, Switzerland and the UK. Over the next 2 years, O’Malley led PETROPLUS through the purchase of five more large European refineries at a total cost of more than $3 Billion becoming Europe’s largest independent refiner.
In 2008, Thomas O'Malley formed and became Chairman of PBF with financing from PETROPLUS, Blackstone Investments and First Reserve Bank.
In 2009, the PETROPLUS Ingolstadt Refinery in Germany catches fire. Also, VALERO closes the Delaware City NJ refinery permanently as a cost-cutting measure. VALERO acquired it from PREMCORP in the takeover and was forced to take a write-down. In the previous 5 years, the Delaware City refinery had experienced 2 major fires resulting in a total of 2 deaths and 10 injuries.
In 2010, PBF bought the shuttered Delaware City Refinery from VALERO Energy for $220-million and the Paulsboro Holdings and Paulsboro Refinery in New Jersey/ Pennsylvania for $360 million. PBF also bought the Toledo, Ohio refinery from Sunoco for $400 million. PETROPLUS sells its interests in PBF for $90-million and reports annual revenues of $20 Billion that year. O'Malley is taking his purchases with him as he changes skins. Paulsboro Holdings is to be considered the accounting predecessor to PBF Energy according to later 2012 SEC filing documents.
At the end of 2011, the bank lenders froze the PETROPLUS $1 Billion credit line. Amazingly, PETROPLUS lost $9-Billion between 2007 and 2011 when O’Malley resigned as Chairman. On January 12. 2012, the company became insolvent when it defaulted on nearly $2-Billion on bonds and notes. O’Malley responded by taking PBF public with a $500 million IPO.
Also in 2012, the Memphis Refinery which VALERO acquired in the PREMCORP takeover caught fire and exploded. One employee was killed and two others were injured.
The year 2015 was an exciting one for O’Malley and PBF Energy Inc. In February, the Paulsboro Refinery (which the company acquired from Tesoro just four years before) exploded killing one worker. This was followed by two separate fires at the Delaware City Refinery, the same facility that PBF had taken out of mothballs after VALERO closed it 5 years earlier. PBF responded with the purchase of the 100-yr-old Chalmette, LA Refinery (built in 1915) from EXXON and the Venezuelan National Oil Company (PDVSA) for $322 million.
O’Malley was reportedly rewarded with a $8.3 million annual salary. Why would exploding refineries be viewed as assets unless O’Malley’s business is as a disposal unit for ‘un-assets’ and liabilities?
We believe the answer is the practice of self-insuring by the corporations at a rate far below the insurance liabilities for the surrounding communities. Local insurance companies who don’t want to go broke had better speak up to BPF and to reinsurers both as better scientific data is accumulated locally and in the radius of destruction with prevailing winds and off shore wind flows inland.
This is what happened in Mayflower, Arkansas in 2013. Homeowners were told there was no coverage for the Exxon Spill which had taken place within their community. This would have been the case if Exxon had self-insured while failing to acquire the needed reinsurance to account for the potential losses to cover the retail insurance companies’ potential losses in these areas.
The solution is to inform the industry for reinsurance who will certainly inform the local insurance companies of man-made disaster potentials both subtle and for explosive profits that are not being spent on safety, modern processes, nor disaster mitigation in the interim of systems’ redesign or temporary shut-downs immediately while giant H2F2 tanks are drained.
Reinsurance companies, who stand to lose billions and trillions of dollars, are far larger than the retail, local sellers of insurance, and far larger than PBF Energy. There is only $4B of reinsurance carried in the Caymans where PBF self-insures itself. The loss of two buildings in New York on 9/11 cost $2-trillion to the reinsurance industry who hadn’t anticipated that although they are excellent with covering local insurance companies with natural disasters when they think ahead.
Reinsurance firms had $36B on the ground in New Orleans in 6 weeks after Hurricane Katrina. Perhaps you recall while governments promised $100B, they delivered only $10B to individuals and paid $10B to the US Army Corps of Engineers to rebuild their dikes. Reinsurance missed anticipating the Malaysian tsunami but had money flow in place to mitigate the Fukashima tsunami. Similarly, today, locals must inform the reinsurers that they are missing a set of dangers in five plants across America.
When they note this kind of failure to cover potential losses action is taken resulting in higher costs for identified hazards and catastrophes. When this real cost of doing business is exposed through this means, local insurance companies are forced to use reinsurance or be bankrupted if a loss occurs.
A copy of this article, and others following with more detailed information, have been sent priority to the Reinsurance Association of America (RAA), which will be holding its annual convention February 14 – 17th, 2017 in Orlando, Florida. We expect to attend to make a presentation to the body.
Founder & President
Arthur C. Pillsbury Foundation