By BEN LEFEBVRE
Chevron said Wednesday it is running most of the processing
units at its refinery in Richmond, Calif., after a fire erupted at the plant's crude
distillation unit, but it was
unclear how much fuel the facility was producing.
Other parts of the refinery continue to operate,
Chevron spokesman Sean Comey said. We're working hard to
get the impacted equipment up and running as soon as we safely
How long and at what rate the company could keep making fuel
at the 245,000 bpd plant was an open question, however, because
Monday's fire damaged the plant's only crude distillation unit, a critical
component of the fuel-making process.
The unit processes crude oil into different cuts that are the
source of diverse types of fuel; without it, Chevron would have
to buy semi-processed crude in order to feed the rest of the refinery.
Most of the other units are still running, said
a person familiar with the refinery's operations. But
it's tough to run without your main unit.
An extended shutdown of the refinery, the largest in the San
Francisco Bay Area and one of the biggest in California, would
likely push prices for fuel in the state past $4/gal, analysts
The premium traders paid for spot Los Angeles Carbob
gasoline delivered in August versus New York Mercantile
Exchange RBOB gasoline jumped by about 25 cents/gal the day
after the fire on concerns about near-term deliveries from the
On Wednesday, the premium reached as high as 35 cents,
bringing the price per gallon to about $3.33.
The fire, which started at about 6:30 p.m. local time
Monday, caused the crude unit to spew toxic gas into the air,
prompting police to order residents in Richmond and several
other communities to stay indoors for a few hours.
Nearly 200 people visited a local medical center after
the fire, complaining of respiratory problems and eye
The first indication of a problem with the crude unit was
seen around 4:30 p.m., when a small leak of a flammable,
diesel-like substance from a pipe caught the eye of workers,
said Mark Ayers, the refinery's chief of emergency services, at
a press conference late Tuesday.
With a company fire truck nearby, engineers began removing
insulation from the leaking pipe.
By 6:30 p.m. Monday, workers saw that the leak was
worsening, backed away and began evacuating the refinery. That's when the blast
occurred, Mr. Ayers said. No major injuries were reported.
Kim Nibarger, national health and safety inspector for the
United Steelworkers union, said that Chevron should have shut
the unit down as soon as the company knew there was a leak.
But Chevron's Mr. Comey said the initial leak was not big
enough to warrant shutting the unit down or notifying
"When you have a very small leak like that, there's no
community impact," Mr. Comey said. "The situation fundamentally
changed several hours after it was initially noticed."
Dow Jones Newswires