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Torrance ExxonMobile refinery scare triggered by party balloon

Upstream Oil and Gas ActivitiesSouthern California Edison Company

A wayward mylar balloon floated into Torrance power lines, forcing an oil refinery evacuation, a street closure and refinery employees to scan the surrounding community for emission leaks.

The balloon triggered a voltage fluctuation at 9:16 a.m. from a Southern California Edison substation in Torrance, which in turn caused “unplanned flaring” at the Torrance ExxonMobil refinery.

No injuries were reported, but nonessential employees at the facility were relocated to a nearby park as a precaution, said refinery spokeswoman Gesuina Paras.

Torrance police said no leaks had been discovered and the air was tested and deemed "clean and safe."

There were some odor complaints, Torrance Fire Capt. Steve Deuel said, "but they dissipated with the wind."

In a statement, refinery officials confirmed a power outage caused the "unplanned flaring" and apologized "for any inconvenience that this incident may have caused."

"The refinery is working to normalize operations," the statement said. Deuel said that process could take between 12 and 24 hours.

Production was unaffected, the company said.

Del Amo Boulevard remains closed in the area until burnoff operations end, police said.

According to its website, the 750-acre facility produces 1.8 billion gallons of gasoline per year, using crude oil primarily from the San Joaquin Valley. Built in 1929, it now produces nearly 10% of the gasoline refined in California.

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kate.mather@latimes.com

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