Carson refinery fire will likely fuel price hikes at gas pump
A partial shutdown of the Phillips 66 refinery in Carson — when combined with temporary closures of two other facilities on the West Coast — began driving up pump prices Monday in Southern California, according to oil industry experts.
Price spikes are partly due to the closure of the crude oil processing unit at the Carson facility at 1520 E Sepulveda Blvd., which erupted into flames Friday night. The two others not operating at full capacity are: Chevron’s refinery in Richmond, Calif., and a BP refinery in Washington state.
Problems at the three refineries will result in higher gasoline pump prices of about 5-10 cents per gallon, said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst with GasBuddy.com, an oil, gas and energy watchdog group.
Motorists should start feeling the full price hike in their wallets within the next week, he predicted.
“It is always telling how the market moves the day after an event like this,” DeHaan said.
How long motorists will see higher prices will depend on how long these facilities are shuttered, he said. In Washington, BP’s Cherry Point refinery is down about a month for maintenance. The facility in Richmond reported flaring last weekend and is underoing maintenance, he said.
“Every day this (Carson) unit is down it is foregoing potentially millions of gallons of gasoline,” he said.
Donald Nuss, a spokesman for Phillips 66, would not say how long the crude oil unit in Carson will be offline, saying he did not want to speculate on the impact to the fuels market.
Phillips 66’s Southern California co-refineries are linked facilities. Crude oil is refined at the Carson facility and then sent on to the Wilmington plant for the final steps in the process of making gasoline, diesel and jet fuels.
DeHaan said the small, Carson plant’s capacity is 150,000 barrels of oil a day, a loss that will affect the gasoline market — but not as much as a larger refinery.
If the plant stays partially closed into the summer, that will drive prices higher because of increased demand for driving during the summer months, DeHaan warned.
On Friday, Los Angeles County firefighters and Long Beach firefighters were called at 7:20 p.m. when the fire began sending thick plumes of dark smoke into the air.
Working with the plant’s on-site fire suppression teams, the firefighters extinguished the blaze by 9:30 p.m., said LA County Fire Capt. Tony Imbrenda.
A seal on a high-pressure crude oil pump failed, causing gallons of oil to leak and burst into flames, Imbrenda said.
“When you have a pressurized vessel of any kind with a flammable liquid, there are a variety of ways that can ignite. Static electricity is often the reason,” he said during an interview Monday.
Imbrenda said the cause of the fire is under investigation by on-site investigators from Phillips 66. There were no injuries reported.
On Friday, South Coast Air Quality Management District inspectors who responded to the scene tested the air and found small amounts of butane, said Patrick Chandler, SCAQMD spokesman in an email.
“Air monitoring was conducted during the fire and all readings have shown no offsite impact,” Nuss wrote on Saturday in an email.
On Monday, Chandler said there was nothing new to report. Nuss said the status has not changed and he provided no updates nor a time frame on when the closed portion of the plant would re-open.
Because emergency teams at the plant, along with firefighting agencies, responded quickly, the damage may have been limited, making full recovery possible sooner rather than later, said Kara Siepmann, spokesperson for Western States Petroleum Association.
“When you have good regulations industry wide that makes safety paramount, it minimizes the impact to people and property but also to the environment and the impact on the economy,” Siepmann said during an interview Monday.
Staff Writer Nathaniel Percy contributed to this article.