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 safety.
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 refineries.
"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 citations.
Dow Jones Newswires