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Investigation into Chevron refinery fire in California finds thinned pipe wall

09.12.2012  | 

An inspection of a 4-foot segment of a pipe leading from the refinery's crude distillation unit showed its walls were 1/16 of an inch thick, down from its normal 5/16 of an inch, said Daniel Horowitz, spokesman for the Chemical Safety Board, an independent agency that probes refinery accidents.



A key pipe in the unit that caught fire at Chevron’s refinery in Richmond, Calif., had lost about 80% of its thickness before the August accident, a federal investigator said Wednesday.

The pipe is one of the focuses of the investigation into how the fire started at the 245,000 bpd refinery.

The blaze lasted for hours, sending black smoke over the San Francisco Bay and forcing local residents to shelter in place.

An inspection of a 4-foot segment of a pipe leading from the refinery's crude distillation unit showed its walls were 1/16 of an inch thick, down from its normal 5/16 of an inch, said Daniel Horowitz, spokesman for the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, an independent agency that investigates accidents at refineries.

Chevron in November removed another pipe near the one now being inspected. Investigators were now looking at why Chevron didn't replace both pipes.

“That's the prevailing view, that this is a big reason why the event occurred,” Mr. Horowitz said. “As to why that thinning occurred, that's what we'll have to find out.”

A Chevron spokesman wasn't immediately available.

Dow Jones Newswires

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Mahendra kumar Rastogi

The rupture of 4 feet segment of carbon steel in crude distillation unit of Chevron refinery leading to fire in richmond , wherein the failed pipe already lost its 80 % thickness monitored during last fire in the plant during Aug '2013 in which adjacent pipe of dia 8" was replaced with new one but this piece was not replaced on the basis that it will give 5 years life and can be replaced in next turnaround. I think, it is a failure of RBI implementation, inspection personnel, Corrosion dosing system and corrosion monitoring system. It is not a failure just by chance but it is the failure of either ignorance or working without system since in one fire in Aug,2013, UTM measurement revealed the thinning of 6" pipe to 80% and connected pipe of 8" dia replaced but this pipe was allowed to be in system for next five years is a big surprize to me and call analysis for root cause investigation. Such frequent fire in the era of high technologies and advance ndt technologies is an example that human effort has totally failed and we have become totally slaves to emerging Hitech.

Abdelhamid Said Ameera

Critical piping systems in refineries should have programs for thickness survey. Based on this survey corrosion rate can be identified and replacing of corroded pipe segments can be done in the proper time.


Periodic UTM test on the pipings are imperative, especially pippings conveying hydrocarbons of high temperatures with velocities.The segmented replacement of the line was a gross mistake. The incdent would have been averted if they had taken extra pains to replace the entire length of the affected pippings!

Shailesh Dalal

Refinery is an old industry and enough information can be gathered about possibilities of reducing the pipe thickness upon a period of time.
Accordingly if such possibilities are common in refinery, then what kind of periodical checkup was done in the past for anticipated reduction of pipe thickness?
Is the checkup was complete or some part was not checked for any reason (safety or carelessness)
Technology is available to monitor such things and create documents about the fact. But, is it implemented properly?
I am in the field of plant machinery condition monitoring. I know how difficult the job is. After all this work is done by human and he should be dedicated and committed to his work.
Condition monitoring team should be directly under management control and the management should have a person who can interpret the report to take right decision.

J Kaushik

I have gone through various other publications on the same topic. I don't suppose it's the piping to be blamed. It has been stated that the line in question was an 8" line with a 12" tap-off further down. As the lines were nearing their process life, inspection had been done in the previous year. The inspection stated that the 12" line was corroded, but the 8" line could continue in service for another 5 years. If these statements can be corroborated, then it is a failure in inspection or the cost-cutting tendencies in most companies to drag what systems are in place beyond their life period.

Tin Oo

We were surprised on Chevron Refinery fire case.
Being one of the world leaders in refining, Chevron will surely apply Risk Base Inspection. We would like to know why RBI cannot prevent such a disaster? Or, Chevron missed to apply best practiced maintenance and inspection.


Tin Oo

D Maheu

Why are the federal investigator and Mr. Horowitz making any statements until the investigation is complete?


FYI. Pipe COMPONENT could have been wrong type for service. All classes of stainless look alike (for the most part) but can only be determined by testing. The specific part may have been installed years ago by mistake and there is no way to determine UNLESS EACH PIPING COMPONENT IS TESTED.
This is common practice for new piping systems, but these refineries have many miles of piping components which were installed a generation or two ago.

Michael A. Taube

"Poor design" isn't, necessarily the root cause. Keep in mind that changes in crude composition can change the corrosion rate in an unpredictable manner. So accelerated corrosion could be possible even with a proper piping design.

Steve Ingistov

It is at least tragic that "trivial" damage to the pipe resulted in such damge to the Refinery. Inspection on regular basis is crucial to maintain reliability of such important Facility.

Keith Lobo

Pipe in this service in a refinery are subjected to significant pressures, temperatures and corrosive action due to the crude and distillates that are produced. There is a significant amount of technologies that are available to ensure that pipe thickness can be gauged prior to such failures. The question is did Chevron have documented knowledge of where these high stress areas were and if so was there a sustainable program and culture in program in place to address this and possible other areas or high stress piping. If a pipe section in an area close to this was replaced then how did this section of pipe get missed? In most refineries there are periodic programs in place to address these and other high risk maintenance areas

Keith J Lobo P.E.


Any information about the composition fluid in the pipe ?


Dear Colleagues,

Very useful information for prevention activities at refineries.

Best Regards,

Raul Marcelo


So it is poor design of piping. Piping should take responsible for the blame.

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