An explosion this week at an Exxon Mobil Corp. refinery near Los Angeles is the latest in a spate of fires to strike U.S. oil plants in the past few years. The refining sector is beset by high risks, weak standards and lax regulatory oversight, labor and environmental groups say, despite recent efforts by U.S. and California officials to clamp down on safety concerns.
“There are inherent hazards in a refinery, but the idea is to keep the risks as low as possible. We don’t think that’s happening sufficiently in the industry,” said Michael Wright, director of health, safety and environment for the United Steelworkers. The Pittsburgh-based union is leading a refinery strike over safety-related and pay disputes.
The blast Wednesday at Exxon’s refinery in Torrance shattered a section of the facility, rained down ash and rattled nearby homes with earthquake-like tremors. Four contract workers suffered minor injuries. The company said it is still investigating the cause of the accident, though initial reports suggest the problem might have started in an ultra-hot cracking unit, which turns crude oil into gasoline.
"The safety and health of our employees, contractors and neighbors remain our top priority," Todd Spitler, an Exxon...
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