* Pipe failure triggered Aug. 6 fire at S.F. Bay refinery
* Safety board releases technical report on pipe, accident
* Chevron says working to improve
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 sparked an August
inferno, risking lives and limiting the San Francisco Bay
"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," U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard
Investigation Board Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso said.
"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," he said in the
In its technical report on the damaged, 8-inch pipe at the
heart of the fire, the CSB found a "deformation" in the area of
likely rupture consistent with force applied on the outside of
the pipe, "possibly from a fire pike."
Chevron said 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 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 (Cal/OSHA) 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 does not have law enforcement or regulatory
authority. It is authorized by Congress to investigate chemical
accidents, determining not only the root causes of fires and
explosions, but also recommending changes in industry practices
and regulatory enforcement.
The report out on Wednesday was part of a cooperative effort
between the CSB, Cal/OSHA, the United Steelworkers and Chevron.
Cal/OSHA Chief Ellen Widess said the report confirmed what
Chevron already knew about the pipe being corroded and requiring
"Chevron's own metallurgists and pipe inspectors reached the
same conclusion and recommended as far back as 2002 that Chevron
take action to protect its workers, the community and the
environment by replacing the pipe that finally ruptured in
2012," she said.
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, when it said that Chevron had been concerned about
corrosion in the section.