By Ben DuBose
A fire broke out late Monday in a crude distillation unit (CDU) at
Chevrons 245,000 bpd Richmond refinery near San
Francisco, California, likely forcing the closure of much of
In a Tuesday morning statement, Chevron said the
main fire - which began at 6:15 p.m. local time on Monday - had
Safety officials are allowing a small controlled burn as
a safety measure to reduce pressure, the company
This is helping to ensure more hydrocarbons don't
escape. This is similar in concept to how refineries utilize
The fire caused the refinery to emit large clouds of
sulfuric acid and nitrogen dioxide, Chevron said in a
Smoke and flames could be seen for miles, media reports said,
with numerous local residents going to hospitals with
complaints of breathing problems.
Both refinery and Contra Costa County
officials issued shelter-in-place alerts immediately following
the incident, but those were ended around midnight local
All employees and contractors were safely accounted
for, Chevron said. Three employees sustained minor injuries and
were treated on site.
We will not speculate on the cause of this
incident, Chevron said in a statement.
Chevron officials confirmed the shutting of the No. 4 CDU,
where the fire broke out, but declined to discuss operations in
other parts of the refinery.
However, traders say the whole refinery is likely to be
shut, as is normal practice in such incidents, according to
media reports including Dow Jones
Newswires. Paul Sankey, an analyst with Deutsche
Bank, wrote that the refinery is likely to be out for several
The Richmond refinery is the largest refinery in the San
Francisco area and accounts for nearly 10% of refining capacity on the US West
That could pressure gasoline margins higher in coming weeks,
especially on the West Coast, according to industry analysts.
It could also benefit other US refiners who may be needed to
fill Chevrons market share.
If the closure persists for a longer time, it could also
impact global markets. The refinery runs primarily California
crude, a variety of grades from Saudi Arabia as well as Iraqi
Basra Light, according to reports.