Chevron’s pipe repair review consistent with industry standard, city expert says

The city’s metallurgical consultant wrote in a report submitted to City Manager Bill Lindsay Tuesday afternoon that Chevron’s choice of piping to replace the No. 4 crude unit at the Richmond refinery is “consistent with industry standards.”

Chevron submitted plans detailing recommendations for repairing the piping in the refinery to Lindsay on Dec. 12. The company’s analysis argued that making the new pipes of 300-series stainless steel, as the U.S. Chemical Safety Board has suggested, would introduce “a new damage mechanism” that would create a problem even more difficult to monitor and inspect than the sulfidation corrosion blamed for the Aug. 6 refinery fire.

James McLaughlin, a consulting engineer for the city, said in his letter Tuesday that Chevron’s preferred material, 9-chrome alloy, follows industry practices. He concluded that Chevron’s report was “sufficiently complete” to comply with the California Fire Code.

The city’s peer reviewer also had findings consistent with McLaughlin’s. “Based on the information contained in Chevron’s technical report, it is my opinion that Chevron’s logic and procedures used in their materials selection process is consistent with industry practice,” David E. Hendrix wrote in a letter sent to the city Tuesday.

Hendrix is president of the Hendrix Group, Inc., a material engineering consulting group, based in Houston, TX.

The technical analysis from Chevron and the city consultant’s response come before a council-ordered public meeting on Wednesday night meant to provide “transparency in the permitting process.”

Lindsay emphasized that building permits will not be issued for the repair of the damaged piping in the crude unit until after Wednesday’s meeting.

Congressman George Miller also weighed in on the piping issue Tuesday, saying he believed that Chevron had made a decision on what piping material to use “even before the damaged piping had been removed for testing,” Miller wrote in a letter to the Richmond City Council.

Miller also criticized Chevron’s call for “timely action” on the permit process while they have been slow to share details with the public and respond to the CSB.

“Expediency should not be allowed to override transparency of the decision making process or concern for worker and public health and safety,” Miller wrote.

According to his resume, James McLaughlin, a material engineer at Becht Engineering Co., Inc., has more than 30 years of experience in the petroleum industry, specifically with issues of corrosion prevention, failure analysis and “fitness-for-service assessments in the entire range of equipment in refineries, petrochemical units and upstream facilities.”

Although his report said he found Chevron’s review complete, McLaughlin did not endorse the use of 9-chrome. “These opinions,” he wrote, “do not constitute a professional opinion that Chevron should install 9Cr in its repair project.

Wednesday night’s public meeting on the permitting process will take place at 6:30 p.m. at the City Council chambers.

One Comment

  1. Michael Olesky

    An open letter to Richmond city officials:

    I have over 35 years experience with a major oil refining company in the maintenance and inspection of crude distillation units like the one in Richmond. I want you to assure you that Chevron’s choice of 9 chrome-1 moly as the alloy to use in the rebuilding of the piping and equipment in hot sulfidation service is, indeed, the safest material choice if they don’t plan on running high naphthenic acid crude mixes at the refinery in the future. There are many crude units throughout the world that have extensive positive experience with 9 chrome-1 moly and its predecessor, 5 chrome-1/2 moly in hot sulfidation service.

    You should know that those oil refining companies that have upgraded to austenitic stainless steel as recommended by the Chemical Safety Board (the most common is 317L stainless steel) have done so in order to accommodate the running of high naphthenic acid crude mixes, either at the present time or in the future. Once the changeover to stainless steel is made, however, extensive operating and maintenance procedures are required to prevent the material from cracking due, primarily, to chloride contamination from either the process fluid fluid inside the equipment or from the environment outside the equipment (the safe level of chlorides is in the order of only 50 ppm). There have been a number of recent incidents in the oil refining industry where stainless steel piping and equipment on crude distillation units has cracked, notably Motiva Port Arthur and ConocoPhillips Bayway, and caused fires and significant property damage. My suspicion is that this is the very reason that Chevron wants to “steer clear” of austenitic stainless steel in the rebuilding of the Richmond crude unit.

    Good luck with your evaluation!

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