Thursday, February 19, 2015

California Oil Refinery Explosion Illustrates the Risks of Fossil Fuels

On Wednesday February 18, a massive explosion at an Exxon Mobile Corp. oil refinery in Torrence California, injured four and leveled a new four story processing facility. The earthquake like blast shook nearby homes and rained down ash on local residents. Although the heat from the resultant blaze could be felt blocks away, there were no causalities among the students at the 13 schools that surround the refinery. Two recent oil train derailments and this refinery explosion highlight the message of last week's historic fossil fuel divestment day.

The flammability of fossil fuels makes them dangerous and contributes to their price volatility. The devastating blast will likely drive up the price of gas in Southern California by as much as 15 cents per gallon.

The 750 acre refinery is located about 20 miles south of downtown Los Angeles. The explosion will prevent the refinery from processing 155,000 barrels of crude oil per day into 1.8 billion gallons of gasoline per year or 8.3 percent of the state's total refining capacity.

This is the second oil refinery to experience major operational disruptions. Earlier this month a Tesoro refinery accounting for almost ten percent of the state's refining capacity was shut down due to labor problems.

The risks associated with fossil fuels are huge, they include the dangers associated with extraction, transportation and refinement. There are additional risks posed by the price volatility of petrochemicals. By far the greatest risk comes from the catastrophic climate consequences associated with the burning of fossil fuels. Up to 80 percent of known oil reserves must be kept in the ground if we are to stave off the worst impacts of climate change.

All of these risks should cause thinking people to question the ongoing expansion of fossil fuel development, particularly when we have safe and clean alternatives in the form of renewable energy.

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