Proposed Oil Refinery Regulations Tackle Safety Concerns

Stoel Rives - California Environmental Law
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On July 14, 2016, the California Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) announced a “landmark set of regulations to strengthen workplace and environmental safety at oil refineries across the state.”  The refinery safety rules consist of two sets of regulations:  one amending the California Occupational Safety & Health (“OSHA”) worker safety regulations as they apply to refineries, and the other revising the California Accidental Release Prevention program (“CalARP”) regulations.  The regulations implement recommendations from Governor Jerry Brown’s Interagency Working Group on Refinery Safety, which was convened following a chemical release and fire at a refinery in August 2012.

The overarching purpose of the regulations is to reduce the risk of major incidents and minimize safety hazards at oil refineries.  For example, under the OSHA regulations, the employer shall develop and implement operating procedures and shall perform a Process Hazard Analysis that identifies, evaluates, and controls hazards associated with each process at the refinery.  Cal. Code Regs. tit. 8, § 5189.1.  The employer must create an emergency action plan and maintain a Process Safety Culture Assessment to determine that managing personnel at the refinery are properly conducting safety protocol.  Under the CalARP regulations, the goal is to minimize accidental release of emissions by developing a stationary source management system, which includes registration with the U.S. EPA.

According to Vanessa Allen Sutherland, Chairperson of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, the proposed regulations are:

“significant improvements that will strengthen protections for workers, communities and the environment, based on lessons learned and best practices.”

From an industry perspective, the regulations are certainly duplicative of current practices and carry the possibility of conflicting mandates and directives.  The petroleum industry, while strongly supporting workplace safety, has also been interested in seeing practical, straightforward and unitary regulations governing both safety and mechanical integrity at California’s refineries.  The public comment period for both draft regulations is open now and closes on September 15, 2016 for the OSHA regulations and on August 29, 2016 for the CalARP regulations.  Stayed tuned to the California Environmental Law blog for future updates.

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