Ramp up delayed for Exxon Mobil’s Torrance refinery

The potential ramp up of Exxon Mobil’s massive refinery in Torrance, California will be delayed after a state regulatory hearing on the matter was pushed back indefinitely.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District said it delayed the hearing scheduled for Wednesday morning to further study the matter and ensure the health of residents living near the Torrance refinery is protected when the refinery increases production. No new date has been set.

Partly because of the pinch on refining, California is coping with the highest gasoline prices in the nation at an average of $3.35 a gallon on Sunday, compared to a $2.25 average in the Houston area, according to a GasBuddy survey data.

Exxon Mobil was hoping to increase gasoline production as soon as late September after the refinery was damaged in an explosion on Feb. 18. Exxon filed an application in mid-August to restart an old piece of equipment, called an electrostatic precipitator, or ESP, while equipment damaged in the blast is still being repaired. The refinery is currently operating at 20 percent capacity.

Exxon also is being cited and fined $560,000 for workplace safety and health violations following a probe into explosion at the Los Angeles-area refinery. The blast caused a fire and shot out debris and ash that fell on lawns and homes in the surrounding community. Four contractors were hospitalized with minor injuries.

When and if Exxon Mobil eventually gets permission to install the old ESP, then the refinery will have permission to operate at 65 percent capacity because the older equipment emits more carbon and pollution. It may take several more months to repair the ESP that exploded from a pressure buildup.

Exxon spokesman Todd Spitler would said that Exxon continues to work closely with regulatory agencies on a potential restart plan.

The Exxon fluid catalytic cracker unit refines gasoline and is key to producing fuel in a state where gasoline prices exceed the national average. When properly functioning, the refinery produces 1.8 billion gallons of gasoline a year, which accounts for more than 8 percent of the state’s total refining capacity.