Chemical Safety Board recommends industry-wide changes in Chevron fire report

U.S. Chemical Safety Board Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso speaks during a news conference at the Emeryville Hilton Garden Inn Monday about the board's second of three reports on the August 2012 Chevron Richmond refinery fire, which endangered 19 workers and sent 15,000 people to area hospitals. Aerial photos of the fire's smoke plume sit nearby. (Photo by: Kevin N. Hume)

U.S. Chemical Safety Board Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso speaks during a news conference at the Emeryville Hilton Garden Inn Monday about the board's second of three reports on the August 2012 Chevron Richmond refinery fire, which endangered 19 workers and sent 15,000 people to area hospitals. Aerial photos of the fire's smoke plume sit nearby. (Photo by: Kevin N. Hume)

U.S. Chemical Safety Board representatives and investigators on Monday recommended sweeping changes to the California petroleum industry following the August 2012 fire at the Chevron refinery in Richmond.

“The report advocates a fresh regulatory system, a quantum leap toward making refineries and chemical plants safer,” said board Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso.

The recommendations, delivered during an afternoon news conference at the Hilton Garden Inn in Emeryville, came as part of the second of three reports on the Chevron fire, which endangered 19 workers and sent 15,000 residents to area hospitals. The first report was filed in April.

The latest report focused on a regulatory approach known as the “safety case regime,” which is already used in the U.S. by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and NASA.

Under this system, refinery operators would be required to submit a written safety case report to industry regulators to indicate how major hazards would be controlled and risks reduced to “as low as reasonably practicable,” according to the report.

Regulators would review, audit and enforce the safety case report, and have the power to reject the report and issue citations if safety standards are not met.

Moure-Eraso said the proposal changes the regulatory system from one that is reactive to proactive.

“In the case of the Chevron refinery fire, the reactive system of regulation simply did not work to prevent what was ultimately a preventable accident,” he said.

Donald Holmstrom, director of the CSB’s western regional office, said Chevron repeatedly failed over a 10-year period to apply safer techniques at the Richmond refinery, failures that ultimately led to the fire. Holmstrom said the current regulatory system “places the burden on the regulator to comply with regulations rather than the company to highlight risks.”

Dan Tillema, the board’s lead investigator for the Chevron fire, said the proposal was a direct result of the incident investigation.

Chevron Richmond spokesperson Melissa Richie stated in an email that a comprehensive inspection of the more than a century-old facility is ongoing in an effort to address the CSB’s findings.

“We have inspected thousands of individual piping components, and are replacing them as necessary based on the results of these inspections,” Richie stated.

Assemblymember Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) released a statement following the news conference, calling for a focus on prevention and ensuring that “efforts aren’t spent reacting to dangerous incidents after they occur.”

Andres Soto, a Richmond representative for Communities for a Better Environment, attended the news conference. He said he supported the safety case proposal while working to strengthen the Contra Costa County and Richmond industrial safety ordinances.

“Until it is written into law, we’re going to remain vigilant and try to make sure that our elected representatives actually represent the community’s interests,” Soto said.

The Chemical Safety Board will vote on the recommendations at a public meeting at Richmond City Hall at 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 15.

The draft report is available at csb.gov for public comment until Jan. 3. Comments may be submitted via email at chevroncomments@csb.gov. Comments received will be reviewed and published on the CSB website.

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