The City Council passed a resolution Tuesday night urging Chevron to use the best technology available when it rebuilds its damaged oil refinery.
The meeting came a day after a Bay Area Air Quality Management District meeting at which a Chevron representative said that the crude unit would not be restarted until the “findings and actions” of Chevron’s investigation of the fire are “fully communicated.”
The approval of the resolution also follows a letter sent on Saturday by the United States Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, based in Washington D.C., which questioned the type of material Chevron planned to use in replacement of the damaged pipes.
Part of the council’s resolution, proposed by Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, will notify Chevron that if it “repairs, rebuilds or replaces equipment” that sustained damage from the fire, it does so at its own risk and that the city reserves the right to disassemble and redo the building based on new information.
“We just simply want to know that the fullest amount of study and the fullest amount of expert advice is being called upon to ensure that the health and safety of the community is being protected,” McLaughlin said. “That is just not good policy to take advice from a corporation who has repeatedly shown itself to have accidents in the city.”
In the Chemical Safety Board’s letter to City Manager Bill Lindsay, the agency addressed Chevron’s plan to replace the pipe using a 9 percent chromium-steel alloy.
CSB Chair Rafael Moure-Eraso cited Richmond city and Contra Costa County industrial safety ordinances requiring the city to “select and implement inherently safer systems to the greatest extent feasible.”
The letter cites documents from the American Petroleum Institute and Chevron, stating that using pipes that contain a higher percentage of chromium, such as stainless steel, can prevent the types of corrosion of piping that some have blamed for the refinery fire.
Nigel Hearne, the Richmond refinery manager, responded to the letter from the CSB with a letter of his own to City Manager Lindsay. “We are confident we have made the right decision, considering all the technical factors, in selecting 9Cr as the material of repair for this service,” Hearne wrote. “Chevron strives to continually improve its performance and considers inherently safer systems when appropriate.”
He closed the letter by minimizing calls for increasing the chromium percentage: “it is important,” he wrote, “to avoid the false notion that ‘alloying up’ is always the answer.”
The council voted 5-1 to pass the resolution, with Councilmember Corky Booze abstaining. In addition to the council majority, most of the 16 public speakers agreed with the resolution.
But those who didn’t, joined by Councilmember Nat Bates in opposing the resolution, argued that the council simply doesn’t know enough now to make decisions about the refinery’s technology.
“I spent more than 40 years as a pipefitter building petrochemical complexes and know a fair amount about metallurgy, but what I know is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Richmond resident Don Gosney.
“Sometimes it takes a brave person to take a step back and admit that they’re clueless but they’d like to learn more,” Gosney said. “Do we have any brave people that sit on the dais today?”
Bates alluded to a meeting next week including City Manager Bill Lindsay, regulatory agencies, staff, experts in metallurgy, and representatives from Chevron.
“The fact is that the experts, the individuals that know more about refineries are going to be meeting,” Bates said. “And this council knows nothing about refineries. So why don’t we wait until the conclusion of that meeting before you start jumping to all of those resolutions?”
Mayor McLaughlin said she was upset to learn city staffers had recently approved permit applications submitted by Chevron after an early-October council resolution directed city staff “to ensure that the repaired project shall conform to all applicable safety and environmental standards,” and use the best available technology.
Since, the Aug. 6 fire, the city has issued more than 20 permits for Chevron’s No. 4 crude unit and for repairs for the cat cooling tower. The most recent permit was issued on Nov. 16, and covered the replacement of pipe supports, anchors and repairs to the No. 4 unit.
The CSB issued a subpoena to Chevron requesting more information by Dec. 7 on its proposed plans to rebuild the pipe, and asking for an explanation should the company decide to not utilize stainless steel.