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CBS5.com: MARTINEZ: SHELL REFINERY SETTLES WITH AIR DISTRICT FOR $2.8 MILLION

05/09/07 5:15 PDT

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District announced today that the Shell Oil refinery in Martinez has paid $2.8 million to settle a series of violations of the Federal Clean Air act and local air district regulations that occurred in March.

Beginning on March 9, the refinery released an estimated 925 tons of carbon monoxide over a seven-day period, according to the air district.

No one was injured as a result of the incident and no off-site impact was detected, according to Shell and the air district.

Shell spokesman Steve Lesher said that a crack in some piping and a valve malfunction forced the refinery to shut down its three carbon monoxide boilers.

Under normal operations, the boilers convert carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas, to carbon dioxide, before it is released into the atmosphere, said Mark Ross.

With the boilers down, the carbon monoxide was released directly into the air. Although refinery personnel took operations down to the lowest safe level, the plant continued to release carbon monoxide for seven days, according to the air district.

According to Ross, the entire Bay Area puts out about 3,000 tons of carbon monoxide per day. With Shell’s emissions in March, the Bay Area’s total carbon monoxide emissions only went up about 5 percent, Ross said.

However, carbon monoxide is known to be harmful to humans and is strictly regulated by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the air district.

According to Ross, Shell reported its violation immediately and followed all of the prescribed notification procedures.

Lesher said that Shell personnel also followed their internal procedures and successfully prevented a potentially major upset at the plant. The refinery’s air monitoring team scoured the nearby area and confirmed that none of the gas had reached nearby communities.

According to Karen Schkolnick, spokeswoman for the air district, because the air district measures carbon monoxide emissions on a rolling basis, it will take Shell about a year to get back into compliance.

All operations at the refinery were returned to normal about two weeks after the incident began and all of the boilers have been repaired, Lesher said.

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