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Chevron inspection missed suspected pipe at Richmond refinery

09.25.2012  |  HP News Services

Chevron says a corroded pipe segment that may have caused the recent fire was not included in a prior inspection and could have been unusually susceptible to corrosion.



Chevron said Tuesday a corroded pipe segment that is the focus of an investigation into the August fire at the company's refinery in Richmond, Calif., had not been included in a prior inspection and may have been unusually susceptible to corrosion.

Chevron and government officials are still investigating the cause of the fire at the 245,000 bpd refinery that sent black smoke billowing over the San Francisco Bay and area residents to hospital emergency rooms.

The Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board had said earlier that the walls of a pipe leading from the refinery's crude distillation unit had corroded by 80%, making it at some segments as thin as a penny and likely to leak flammable material.

Chevron said Tuesday the pipe had an unusually-low silicon content, making it vulnerable to corrosion in high temperatures because of a process called sulfadation.

The company didn't check a 5-foot segment of the pipe during a routine inspection in November despite having removed a nearby pipe that showed signs of corrosion.

“Unfortunately, we did not inspect the individual component that failed,” said Nigel Hearne, general manager of the refinery. “We are now inspecting every individual component in carbon steel systems exposed to sulfadation corrosion conditions.”

Chevron said Monday that the UW Environmental Protection Agency was conducting a separate, criminal investigation into whether the Richmond refinery was illegally routing gas away from emissions monitoring equipment before flaring it into the air.

The Richmond refinery is the largest in the San Francisco Bay Area and accounts for nearly 10% of the refining capacity in the US West Coast. It produces gasoline, diesel fuel and assorted petrochemicals. The production outage following the August fire caused California gasoline prices to rise 30 cents.

Dow Jones Newswires

Cover photo courtesy of Alex Tafla via Flickr

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Three words, Guided wave inspection....

Francisco Elicer

The API 571 explains all kind of corrosion encountered on refineries piping process plants.
Also the API give us a good idea on how to prevent corrosion mechanisms on certain piping circuits of selected process.
Hydrogen Sulfide corrosion is treated extensively as well as distillation tower corrosion.
This problem is well recognized and treated in this API.


When I was an engineering student, I worked as an inspector checking piping thickness. Inspection is not 100% coverage and is based on representative samples. I can imagine it would be very easy to miss a 5' section of pipe, particularly if the line was insulated.


Pipeline inspection is very important part of operation specially for subject products.chemicals, It is also un acceptable that"The company didn't check a 5-foot segment of the pipe during a routine inspection in November despite having removed a nearby pipe that showed signs of corrosion"

Youyu Lu

It's so sad that "an accident" happened to such a big company! Lots of lessons learnt from this incidnet. In term of "Si" content, I still often heared that all crbon steel pipe are "killed" but actually, it's not.

Alberto Jimenez

As always, this will be called " an accident ", but ; why the "company didn't check a 5-foot segment of the pipe during a routine inspection in November" ?. Seems to be impossible in the San Francisco largest Refinery.
Who is the responsable, the Director, the President of the Company, or anybody, as always ?.

Jayaprakash Edapparampil

The most difficult part of inspection in any industry is to include all bits and pieces of piping in inspection program. My experience is that every company will have a comparetively better and strong inspection program for Equipment (pressure vessels, tanks etc.) but usually a weak program for piping. This is due to the complicated network of piping. 100% management support, resources and dedicated inspectors are essential for a succesful inspection program for piping

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