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KGET (California): Gas prices may rise after local refinery leak

Last Update: Jun 18, 2007 7:36 PM
Posted By: brynn galindo

BAKERSFIELD – Bakersfield’s Flying J Refinery is leaking toxic chemicals into local groundwater and part of the Rosedale Highway facility has been shut down.

The implications are statewide: Even a small reduction in the state’s gasoline production can mean higher prices at the pump.

Kern County Environmental Health officials say there is no immediate danger to drinking water in the area, but the California Regional Water Quality Control Board has ordered parts of the refinery closed until the problem can be located.

About 30 percent of the 75-year-old refinery has been closed and will remain shut down until the problem is identified and fixed.

It produces about 2 percent of the state’s gasoline and 6 percent of its diesel. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but in a state where supplies are as tight as they are in California, it can make a big difference.

“Losing 1 or 2 percent can push you over the edge, and prices go up,” Severin Borenstein, director of the University of California’s Energy Institute, told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2005, when Flying J bought the plant from Shell for an estimated $130 million.

When Shell owned the property, there was an ongoing problem with pollutants getting into the water supply of nearby homes and businesses. That was now-banned gasoline additive MTBE. Remediation of that problem is ongoing.

Big West, the company that owns Flying J, has applied for county permits to expand the refinery by half. But the county cited the company two months ago for allegedly venting toxic gases into the air. And, the county said, nearby residents were sickened when an airborne gas leak reached local homes in 2004.

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