A New Jersey-based oil refining company announced today it is purchasing the ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance that was badly damaged in a February explosion, with the $527.5 million deal expected to close in the second quarter of 2016.
The deal, subject to "customary closing conditions and regulatory approvals," will also not be closed until the refinery is "restored to full working order," according to the buyer, PBF Energy.
Four workers were injured in the Feb. 18 blast, which led state regulators to issue 19 citations against ExxonMobil and propose penalties totaling $566,600.
Cal/OSHA officials said a 2007 safety review found problems with flammable vapor in the plant's electrostatic precipitator, but no corrective actions were taken.
Regulators noted that the plant's fluid catalytic cracker had not been working properly for as long as nine years prior to the blast.
A preliminary report by the South Coast Air Quality Management District determined the blast was caused by over-pressurization in the electrostatic precipitator — an air-pollution-control system.
"We are excited to be adding a refinery with Torrance's complexity and we look forward to entering the West Coast market," said PBF CEO Tom Nimbley. "… We are committed to the safe and environmentally responsible operations of the facility and look forward to welcoming Torrance's well-trained and professional workers to the PBF family."
The 750-acre refinery has a capacity of 155,000 barrels per day. With the purchase, PBF will increase its total capacity to about 900,000 barrels per day, according to the company.
Investigations are continuing into the February explosion, which has contributed to spiking gasoline prices in the Southland due to the cut in production. The refinery typically provides as much as one-fifth of Southern California's gasoline supply.
Members of Consumer Watchdog, a Santa Monica-based consumer advocacy group, have been critical of ExxonMobil's actions following the blast, recently accusing the company of refusing to turn over documents and hiding a key employee from investigators.
Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court said the sale of the refinery should not allow ExxonMobil to escape responsibility for the explosion.
"If Exxon can't keep gas flowing to the state and keep our neighborhoods safe, it should turn over the refinery to a company who can," Court said. "But state regulators and investigators must continue to hole Exxon accountable even as it leaves the refining market. Exxon can exit (the) market but should not be able to hide from the law."
Torrance Mayor Patrick J. Furey welcomed PBF to the city and said he looks forward to "a positive, productive and long-term relationship."
"Jobs are important to the community but safety essential," he said. "Nothing is more important to me and our city leaders than the safety of our community. My primary concern is that ExxonMobil maintain its focus on safe operations and supporting the employees and contractors throughout this process."