By Catherine Reheis-Boyd
When an incident like the recent refinery fire in Richmond occurs, it’s only natural for questions to be raised about safety. And it’s essential that thorough investigations be conducted to determine the answers as to why something like this happens, and how it can be avoided in the future.
One thing’s certain. The answer is not, as some have suggested, to simply shut down this facility or any others that happen to be located near urban population centers.
To put an admittedly emotional issue into perspective, it’s important to note that the petroleum industry has an excellent safety record. As a matter of fact, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics the petroleum and coal manufacturing industry in 2010 was tied with computer and electronic product manufacturing for the lowest nationwide rate of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses among all reported manufacturing sectors.
California’s refiners are also subject to the strictest air quality regulations in the nation, which provides superior protection not only for the health of their workers but for the communities in which they are located.
Then there are the economic considerations. According to a June, 2011 study by Purvin & Gertz, the petroleum industry provides over 330,000 direct and indirect jobs in California, representing over $17 billion in annual wages paid. The study also found that the state received approximately $5.7 billion in tax and fee revenues from the industry in 2009, representing about 5.5% of the state’s total revenue in that year.
Further, California’s refineries are critical to the availability of affordable transportation fuels that keep our economy going and consumers moving to work, school, medical care and other essential destinations. And the fuel they produce is the cleanest-burning on the planet, thanks to California’s automotive emissions standards. This presents a magnified supply challenge since very few regions outside the state produce California-compliant gasoline. Cutting production here would not only increase our reliance on imported gasoline, it would create a real threat of severe shortages due to lack of product availability from out-of-state sources.
The fact of the matter is that there are risks associated with any kind of energy production, but they are far outweighed by the benefits. That is why the focus should be on addressing the effects of these infrequent incidents; ensuring any impacted community residents get the care and assistance they may need; and completing repairs as quickly as possible to minimize supply disruptions and get local workers and vendors back on the job.
Most important of all is to determine precisely what happened and why, and to take any steps necessary to protect against similar occurrences in the future.
California’s petroleum industry has always placed safety first, and we now renew our promise to our workers and to our communities that we will vigorously pursue that commitment going forward.