The US Chemical Safety Board said Wednesday that Chevron
knew for years of a problem with a corroded pipe that caused
the massive fire last year at its refinery in Richmond,
The August fire at the 245,000 bpd refinery near San Francisco burned
for hours, sending a column of thick, black smoke over the San
Francisco Bay and causing an estimated 15,000 area residents
with eye and respiratory problems to visit emergency
The board, an independent entity that investigates industrial
accidents, said that Chevron metallurgists and inspectors had
warned the company as early as 2002 about the pipe's potential
to cause a major accident, but failed to replace it.
"This report confirms what Chevron already knew -- that the
pipe was severely corroded and should have been replaced -- but
failed to act on before the August fire," said Ellen Widess,
head of the California Occupational Safety and Health
Administration, which helped with the investigation.
The fire started in the crude-distillation unit, the first stop in
the refining process where crude oil is
cooked to more than 600 degrees Fahrenheit before being sent to
The Chemical Safety Board criticized Chevron for not shutting
down the unit while employees searched for the source of the
leak fluid, which eventually turned into a vapor cloud that
injured six workers.
"Continuing to troubleshoot the problem and having
firefighters remove insulation searching for a leak while
flammable hydrocarbons were flowing through the leaking pipe
was inconsistent with good safety practices," said board
chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso.
Cal/OSHA in January levied nearly $1 million in fines
against Chevron after citing the company with 25
workplace-safety violations. The Chemical Safety Board does not
have the power to levy fines or citations.
Chevron said it would appeal the citations. The San Ramon,
Calif.-based oil company, which is still conducting an internal
investigation into the accident, said it would replace any
pipes in the refinery that were "unsuitable for
"We are implementing corrective actions that will strengthen
management oversight, process safety, mechanical integrity and
leak response," Chevron spokesman Sean Comey said.
Chevron expects to restart the crude unit by the end of the
first quarter, Mr. Comey said.
Dow Jones Newswires