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Consumer Watchdog Exposes Possible Exxon Cover Up As Investigators Seek Answers in Torrance Refinery Explosion

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Jamie Court & Liza Tucker

Santa Monica, CA — ExxonMobil may be subverting a federal and state investigation into the explosion at its Torrance refinery last February that hobbled gasoline production and pushed gas prices sky high, Consumer Watchdog revealed in a letter to Governor Jerry Brown, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

“Exxon is denying documents requested under subpoena by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, information substantiated in a letter from Reps. Maxine Waters and Ted Lieu on September 11, 2015,” Consumer Watchdog wrote. “Now Consumer Watchdog has received confidential information that the key Exxon employee who reportedly made decisions leading to the explosion is being hidden from investigators.”

For the letter, see: http://consumerwatchdog.org/resources/final-ltr-re-exxon-subpoena-sept22-redacted.pdf

The letter asked that the key employee be interviewed about the culpability of Exxon and its managers in such incidents and that Governor Jerry Brown and top law enforcement officials help secure documents Exxon has denied under subpoena.

“California holds corporate managers criminally accountable if they have knowledge of workplace safety dangers but fail to report them,” the letter stated. “California Penal Code Section 387 applies to Exxon’s CEO Rex Tillerson as much as it does to this employee, who should be granted whatever protections may be necessary to get at the truth.”

The employee, whose name was given to investigators, but redacted publicly, was the leader in charge of the Fluid Catalytic Cracker that sources say should have been shut off, but wasn’t, while a damaged compressor was fixed, leading to a hydrocarbon leak that touched off the explosion.

“Allegedly, (redacted), who was the Light Oil Processing leader in charge of the Fluid Catalytic Cracker on the day of the explosion, has been reassigned to an administrative position at the plant and told to stay away from the investigation and to keep quiet,” according to the Consumer Watchdog letter. Exxon is also failing to supply process hazard analyses for the Cracker and other interconnected equipment under subpoena.

“We have learned from confidential sources that the February explosion that roiled California gasoline markets and a recent leak of modified hydrofluoric acid, seem to stem from a single source—reckless disregard for safety by the company,” the letter said. “Exxon should not be above the law.”

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