By BEN LEFEBVRE
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
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