* CSB says Chevron should check for ongoing damage to plants
* Board's interim report on Aug. 6 Richmond refinery blast
(Adds quotes from Chevron, CSB Chairman)
By Braden Reddall and Erwin Seba
EMERYVILLE, Calif./HOUSTON, April 15 - The U.S.
Chemical Safety Board on Monday recommended that Chevron Corp
check for ongoing damage to pipes and equipment at its
U.S. refineries to prevent another explosion like the Aug. 6
pipeline blast at the company's San Francisco Bay area refinery.
The Safety Board, in an interim report issued Monday, said
Chevron did not act upon six recommendations over 10 years to
increase inspection and replace the line at its Richmond,
California, refinery with upgraded pipe.
During the 10 years before the Aug. 6 blast, refinery
officials saw signs the pipeline's walls were thinning due to
corrosion from rising sulfur content in the increasingly diverse
crude oil grades the refinery was processing, the CSB found.
The pipeline's walls, originally a third of an inch thick,
had thinned significantly in the years prior to the Aug. 6
explosion, the board said.
"The average wall thickness near the rupture location was
approximately 40 percent thinner than a dime (the thinnest
American coin)," the CSB wrote in the interim report.
Chevron said it was working with the CSB to make changes to
its process hazard analysis program, while strengthening the
refinery's reliability program for piping and equipment.
"The refinery has also begun to implement an enhanced
process for regular damage mechanism reviews for each unit and
piping circuit to improve the evaluation of known damage
mechanisms, the potential consequences of a failure, and the
safeguards necessary to mitigate failures and other potential
risks," Chevron said in a statement.
The accident occurred on the evening of Aug. 6 as
firefighters were seeking the source of a leak on the pipe,
which carried gasoil away from the refinery's
245,000-barrel-per-day (bpd) crude distillation unit (CDU).
The pipeline rupture released a huge vapor cloud seen from
miles away before igniting two minutes later. The blaze created
an even larger plume of black smoke over the area. More than
15,000 San Francisco Bay area residents sought medical treatment
in the weeks after the blaze for respiratory problems.
The gasoil in the pipeline was at or above the temperature
at which it will ignite in the presence of oxygen when the
rupture occurred, the CSB said.
Eighteen workers safely escaped the vapor cloud. One worker
was caught in a fire truck when the cloud ignited, but was
protected by his full-body firefighting gear and was able to
escape from the blaze.
The fire took five hours to bring under control.
A CSB official told a news conference on Monday that its
full report, due later this year, would examine the response to
the initial leak and why there were so many people nearby.
The CSB, an investigative body that has no enforcement or
regulatory powers, also recommended Chevron report leading and
lagging safety indicators at its two California refineries to
federal, state and local regulatory agencies.
The board called upon the state of California to establish a
multi-agency process safety program "to improve the public
accountability, transparency, and performance of chemical
accident prevention and mechanical integrity programs."
Process safety refers to maintaining safe operations of the
refining production processes as opposed to general safety
programs for workers at a company.
CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso said the problems seen in
the Richmond refinery explosion are a reflection of the U.S.
"It's a very old industry, and what we find out is that the
equipment is, in some cases, pretty old," Moure-Eraso said at a
Monday news conference. "We think that what happened here in
Chevron is a reflection of the sector in general."
The CSB also recommended that the City of Richmond and
Contra Costa County strengthen process safety programs over
refineries under their jurisdiction.
There are four refineries in Contra Costa County.
The board recommended that federal, state and local worker
safety and environmental protection agencies conduct joint
inspections of refineries and chemical plants. It also
recommended those agencies participate in the new safety
regulation program recommended for California.
Since the Aug. 6 fire, the Richmond refinery's sole crude
distillation unit, which does the initial refining of crude oil
coming into the refinery and provides feedstock for all other
units, has been shut.
Chevron said repairs to the CDU were completed in late March
and the refinery plans to restart the unit in April. The
refinery has been producing motor fuels at 50 percent of
capacity due to the CDU's shutdown.
(Reporting by Erwin Seba; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Bob
Burgdorfer and Nick Zieminski)