By CASSANDRA SWEET
Chevron didn't apply safer design principles at its oil
refinery in Richmond, Calif., and the company didn't fix a
corroded pipe that ruptured last year and caused a fire and a
vapor cloud, investigators at the US Chemical Safety Board
concluded in a draft report.
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 rooms. Six
Chevron employees suffered minor injuries.
The board, an independent entity that investigates
industrial accidents, said Monday Chevron metallurgists and
inspectors warned the company in a 2009 internal report, and
again in a 2010 newsletter, that corrosion could cause a major
pipeline rupture or "catastrophic failure," but that the
company didn't take action to correct the problem.
Chevron said it was reviewing the Chemical Safety Board's
report and was "working closely with the agency to make certain
we understand its concerns and recommendations." The company
also said it was taking a "wide range of actions" in response
to the refinery fire to increase
Board investigators found an increase in sulfur content in
the grades of crude oil that Chevron ran through the Richmond
refinery over the years, potentially corroding refinery
pipelines faster than Chevron expected. The percentage of
sulfur in Richmond refinery crude oil increased nearly
85% between 1984 and 2012, the investigators said.
The board recommended Chevron hire a team of experts to
review the company's US refineries for potential damaged
equipment and that the company adopt "industry best practices"
for safer systems.
The board also recommended California lawmakers and local
officials in Richmond tighten safety regulations for oil
"Our findings and recommendations are directed immediately
at the accident in the Bay Area, but we believe they apply to
all refineries, chemical plants and general industry," Board
chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso said in a statement.
The board plans to hold a public meeting Friday in Richmond
to discuss the report.
The state Occupational Safety and Health Administration,
which also investigated the incident, in January levied nearly
$1 million in fines against Chevron after citing the company
with 25 workplace-safety violations. The Chemical Safety Board
doesn't have the power to levy fines or citations.
Chevron has said it would appeal the Cal/OSHA
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