Chevron Refinery Fire Blamed by Agency on Ignored Warnings

By Mark Drajem | December 17, 2013

The fire at Chevron Corp.’s refinery in Richmond, Calif., last year that sickened thousands was caused by the company ignoring a decade’s worth of calls for inspections and upgrades of piping that eventually corroded and failed, a federal safety report said Monday.

A corroded pipe at the refinery ruptured in August 2012, causing a leak of processing fluid that ignited. The blaze sent vapor and particulates into the air, and more than 15,000 people to the hospital. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board report released today backs up an interim report last year, which said the company was warned to inspect and replace its pipes.

The incident at the Chevron refinery is one of a growing number of “serious and deadly incidents” at those facilities in recent years, the independent safety regulator said. This report will be open for public comment before being finalized.

Oil Refinery“The continuing occurrence of refinery accidents demonstrates the pressing need to examine the current regulatory structure in place in the U.S.,” the CSB said in the report.

San Ramon, California-based Chevron received recommendations from employees as early as 2002 to replace a pipe that was installed at the refinery’s crude unit in 1974, according to the state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, known as Cal OSHA.

Cal OSHA found nine temporary clamps and fittings on leaking equipment at the refinery that hadn’t been permanently repaired for as long as seven years.

“Over the last 16 months, we’ve worked to address the underlying issues identified in our investigation report, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board’s findings and the issues raised by CAL-OSHA,” Melissa Ritchie, a spokeswoman for Chevron said in a statement. At the Richmond plant, “a full, comprehensive inspection of the refinery is ongoing. To date, we have inspected thousands of individual piping components, and are replacing them as necessary.”

The board recommended that California tighten rules and audits of refineries and that regulating agencies upgrade the technical skills, knowledge and experience of their staff.

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