Oil Refiners See Threat to Existence : Pollution: Two firms oppose proposed ban on use of hydrofluoric acid to boost octane rating of gasoline.


One small Santa Fe Springs oil refinery said it would have to close and another said its existence would be threatened if air quality officials enact a proposed ban on the bulk use of hydrofluoric acid at their plants.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District says the ban is needed to prevent a potential catastrophe that could threaten the lives of thousands living near four Southland refineries and a refrigerant manufacturing plant that use the acutely hazardous substance.

Although the four refineries that use the substance have previously complained about the financial burden of converting to less volatile sulfuric acid, the statements by the Golden West and Powerine spokesmen during an AQMD hearing Friday mark the first time that industry officials have said refineries might have to close.

A final hearing on the proposed ban, which is to include comment on environmental and socioeconomic impact reports, is scheduled for Dec. 7.

Both sulfuric and hydrofluoric acids are used in a process that boosts the octane of unleaded gasoline.

The AQMD has previously cited industry-sponsored tests that showed a two-minute release of 1,000 gallons of hydrofluoric acid would form a dense, ground-hugging cloud of gas and vapor that could threaten life five miles downwind. Also cited was a history of accidents that resulted in large-scale releases of the substance.

Golden West spokesman David Drag said flatly that a hydrofluoric acid ban "would force the closure of the refinery" and that the immediate consequences would be the loss of 250 refinery jobs, as well as 1,000 positions in the Thrifty Oil gas station chain. Noting that Thrifty, Golden West's main customer for gasoline, is the area's largest independent gasoline retailer, Drag said the ban "would result in higher gasoline prices" for consumers.

Powerine spokesman David Moore said the refinery would be jeopardized by eliminating hydrofluoric acid. He said tight space on refinery grounds would prevent the refinery from constructing a sulfuric acid unit while continuing to operate the hydrofluoric acid unit.

Two larger refineries--Mobil in Torrance and Ultramar in Wilmington--also use the chemical to boost the octane of unleaded gasoline and also oppose the regulation, but they have stopped short of saying the conversion to sulfuric acid would force closure. At the hearing, Ultramar proposed a study, review and possible conversion process.

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