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Chemicals lingered in the air above Richmond after the Chevron refinery fire. (Photo by: Tawanda Kanhema)

Chevron reports cause of August 6 refinery fire

on April 12, 2013

Chevron failed to properly document a thinning pipe in the Richmond refinery’s crude unit back in 2002, the company admitted Friday, when the oil giant released its findings from its own investigation into the cause of last August’s refinery fire.

The company concluded sulfur corrosion, accelerated by low silicon content, caused the five-foot carbon steel pipe to spring a leak and eventually ignite.

“We have identified what went wrong and are taking steps to prevent a similar incident in the future,” said Nigel Hearne, the refinery’s general manager, in a statement. “The causes of the incident were multi-faceted. The refinery’s management and our entire workforce are implementing actions to address the issues underlying the August incident and as part of our commitment to continuous improvement.”

In addition to not properly documenting the thinning pipe, the report states inspections conducted in 2011 did not include every component susceptible to sulfidation corrosion. After crews discovered the leaking pipe before the fire, response teams failed to see the risk of rupture and ignition, the report continues.

The report concludes that enhanced component inspection would have alerted refinery employees to a potential problem in the crude unit. The company is now implementing this inspection program throughout its refining network, according to the report.

The findings line up with reports by federal and state agencies such as the U.S. Chemical Safety Board and Cal/OSHA that have been investigating the fire. Those agencies found Chevron knew of the corroded pipe, but failed to act before the fire.

“Chevron will continue to work cooperatively with government agencies that have been involved in looking into this incident,” the company stated in Friday’s press release.

The press release said the company is working to improve its inspection and reporting procedures. Chevron recently completed repairs to the crude unit and expects to restart operations this month.

On the evening of April 19, the Chemical Safety Board will make a full presentation on its findings at the Richmond Auditorium.

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