* Pipe failure triggered Aug. 6 fire at S.F. Bay refinery
* Chemical Safety Board releases technical report on
* Chevron says working to improve management oversight, leak
By Braden Reddall
SAN FRANCISCO, Feb 13 Federal safety
investigators on Wednesday criticized Chevron's response to a
leak at its Richmond refinery crude unit that caused a huge fire
last August that put many lives at risk and has severely limited
the output of the San Francisco Bay plant.
In a technical report on the damaged 8-inch pipe at the
heart of the fire, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard
Investigation Board (CSB) found a "deformation" in the area of
likely rupture initiation consistent with mechanical force
applied on the outside of the pipe, "possibly from a fire pike."
"On the day of the accident, Chevron should have shut down
the crude unit as soon as a leak was observed and removed
workers to a safe location," CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso
said in a statement along with the report.
"Continuing to troubleshoot the problem and having
firefighters remove insulation searching for a leak - while
flammable hydrocarbons were flowing through the leaking piping -
was inconsistent with good safety practice."
Chevron responded it was taking corrective actions
to strengthen its management oversight, process safety,
mechanical integrity, and leak response, while adding that its
own investigation of the fire was nearly complete.
"While we do not agree with some of the characterizations in
the CSB news release, we are committed to discussing the
findings from our investigation and our corrective actions with
the investigating agencies," Chevron said in a statement.
The crude unit at the 245,000 barrel-per-day refinery is
still expected to restart by the end of March, a spokesman said.
Chevron has not said exactly how limited the refinery's
output is, but the impact was clear with the company's average
fourth-quarter U.S. refining input down 226,000 bpd from the
second quarter - the last period when Richmond was fully running
Last month, the California Division of Occupational Safety
and Health imposed a record fine of nearly $1 million on Chevron
and found that the second-largest U.S. oil company had not
complied with state safety standards and put workers and the
public at risk.
"Richmond and the entire East Bay need assurances that our
refineries will be operated safely," Nancy Skinner, a local
state assembly member, said in a statement. "Monetary penalties
alone may not suffice."
The CSB found that 19 Chevron employees were initially
caught in a vapor cloud after the initial hydrocarbon release,
but 18 escaped before the fire started and one escaped without
injury after the ignition.
The incident resulted in six minor injuries, while more than
15,000 residents in the surrounding area sought treatment at
medical facilities as a result, the CSB noted.
Moure-Eraso said he hoped the report's findings received
widespread attention throughout the petrochemical industry as a
precaution to all refiners to watch out for potential corrosion.
The CSB identified the corrosion of the pipe wall last
September and said that Chevron had been concerned about
corrosion in the section.