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US safety board seeks overhaul of California refinery regulations

12.16.2013  |  HP News

After the August 2012 fire at Chevron's Richmond refinery, the CSB says it wants to replace reactive and activity-based regulations with a rigorous, performance-based scheme.


In a draft report released to the public on Monday, the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) is proposing recommendations for substantial changes to the way refineries are regulated in California. 

Entitled “Regulatory Report: Chevron Richmond Refinery Pipe Rupture and Fire,” the CSB draft calls on California to replace the current patchwork of largely reactive and activity-based regulations with a more rigorous, performance-based regulatory regime -- similar to those successfully adopted overseas in regions such as the United Kingdom, Norway, and Australia -- known as the “safety case” system.
The draft report is the second part of three in the CSB’s investigation of the August 2012 process fire in the crude unit at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California. That fire endangered 19 workers and sent more than 15,000 residents to the hospital for medical attention.
“After exhaustively analyzing the facts, the CSB investigation team found many ways that major refinery accidents like the Chevron fire could be made less likely by improving regulations," said CSB chairperson Dr. Rafael Moure-Eraso. 

"Refinery safety rules need to focus on driving down risk to the lowest practicable level, rather than completing required paperwork," he continued. "Companies, workers, and communities will all benefit from a rigorous system like the safety case. I believe California could serve as a model for the nation by adopting this system. 

"We applaud the work of the Governor’s Interagency Task Force for their proactive approach and highly positive recommendations to protect worker and public safety in California. I have great confidence that California will embrace the recommendations in our draft report and carry them forward to implement policy change.”

The safety case regime requires companies to demonstrate to refinery industry regulators -- through a written “safety case report” -- how major hazards are to be controlled and risks reduced to “as low as reasonably practicable,” or ALARP.

The CSB report notes that the safety case is more than a written document; rather, it represents a fundamental change by shifting the responsibility for continuous reductions in major accident risks from regulators to the company.
To ensure that a facility’s safety goals and programs are accomplished, a safety case report generated by the company is rigorously reviewed, audited, and enforced by highly trained regulatory inspectors, whose technical training and experience are on par with the personnel employed by the companies they oversee, the draft report says.

The full draft report is available for public comment until Friday, January 3, 2014. Comments should be sent to chevroncomments@csb.gov. All comments received will be reviewed and published on the CSB website.

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Stephen Gale

I work as a supplier to the UK refinery industry and have visited others internationally including in the US. I note that where UK refineries check equipment at the gate for having spark arrestors and automatic shut-offs on vehicles (since the 70s) the majority of US plants allow unprotected diesels and even some sparking gasoline engines into the process areas. Removing these ignition sources is not difficult but I noticed a general reluctance up to now to do much unless the US government makes it an issue. That's fundamentally backwards to the European way.

Rajasekhar B Polapragada

This paper signals a fundamental shift of responsibility from regulatory authorities to refiners. but basic question is if refiners knew and anticipated the problem or not, is a debatable point . my experience shows cost plays a big part in decision making which rests with management of oil companies.

A. Aziz Ansari

There might be some operation discipline issue in major accidents like above relating to implementation of the already laid down procedures and consequently pointing towards operator level of disciplined behaviour at work.


Working in the oil industry for over thirty years I feel that there should be state certification of all refinery operators. You have licenses for wastewater treatment operators which is controlled by the state. I know the oil companies are against this but training is very important and has fell way below what is needed for the job. The Chevron incident was a combination of letting management do what they want without speaking up. Any good Head Operator or Shift Supervisor (trained) would know not to remove any insulation from a leaking pipe without knowing they could isolate it if it let go..(.emergency contingency plan). Companies like Chevron are always stretching there limits on inspections ( wait to the next shutdown) but don't take into account of "what if" ....

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