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Cleanup complete after a Chevron oil spill in February

County contractor signs off on Chevron spill investigation, saying the company ‘took the incident very seriously.’

on July 13, 2023

The long awaited third-party review of the Chevron 2021 diesel spill in the San Francisco Bay was released this week, largely backing up Chevron’s findings that the spill was caused by a corroded pipe and an inadequate system to detect leaks. 

The consultant, AcuTech, also concluded that Chevron’s hour-long delay in reporting the leak to authorities was not unreasonable. 

AcuTech will present the report at a public meeting from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday at the Richmond Convention Center Bermuda Room, which will commence a 45-day period where the public can comment on the report. AcuTech must respond to all written comments and will consider making changes based on public feedback. The final report will also be presented to the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors and Richmond City Council. 

While the Richmond City Council requested and Contra Costa Health Services initially promised to conduct an independent investigation, Health Services instead hired a third-party contractor  to conduct a review of Chevron’s investigation. Out of four bidders for the contract, Health Services awarded it to AcuTech, of Vienna, Virginia, the only bidder that had done work with Chevron in the previous three years. And on its homepage, AcuTech highlights its work with Chevron.

Aerial view of Chevron Richmond Refinery. Photo: Ryan Dexter

AcuTech’s review was held up for a year, only starting last August, because Chevron was reviewing its report for trade secrets. Health Services said Wednesday that the delay did not change the cost of the contract, which is $95,000. 

About 800 gallons of diesel were dumped into the bay after the pipe ruptured at the Richmond Chevron refinery on Feb. 9, 2021. In a settlement last fall with Contra Costa County and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Chevron, which is Richmond’s largest employer, agreed to cover around $131,000 of clean up costs and pay $70,000 in civil penalties, as well as to develop an improved leak detection and pipe inspection system. 

AcuTech concluded in its report that the spill was from “a failure to follow good engineering and industry practices.” It said Chevron has since addressed the problems and is working to develop better leak detection technology.

“Chevron showed through interviews and actions that they took the incident very seriously and management was directly engaged in understanding the root causes and seeing to the resolution of corrective actions,” the report said. 

Chevron and AcuTech both agree that the pipe, first installed in 1948,  failed because of three main factors. First, inspections of the line were inadequate. Second, Chevron did not consistently create incident reports when the line had problems, so the line’s history wasn’t mentioned in a 2019 review that identified no hazards. Third, before the line catastrophically failed, Chevron replaced sections of the original cement-lined pipe with unlined carbon steel piping. This change, however, did not go through Chevron’s required evaluation process, which might have identified a leak risk.

In addition, AcuTech noted that Chevron’s investigation team had found that the long wharf, which is where the spill occurred, operated under a safety culture that “was not as robust” as the rest of the facility. 

AcuTech acknowledged that Chevron’s delay in detecting the leak made the spill more severe. At the time of the leak, the line was not being monitored by Chevron’s central control board, and relied on visual inspections alone for problems to be detected. A passerby reported the leak around 2:30 p.m., the U.S. Coast Guard reported. According to the official timeline provided by Health Services, Chevron notified the state at 3:15 p.m.

Health Services regulations require companies to report spills as soon as possible or within 15 minutes. According to AcuTech’s report, Chevron spent that first hour trying to determine if the leak was from the refinery or from a shipping vessel.

“It is AcuTech’s opinion that Chevron made all reasonable efforts to meet the requirements of the Contra Costa Health notification requirements,” the report said. 

AcuTech’s report can be found here. More information about the public meeting is on the city’s website.

(Top photo: State and county officials scan the shoreline days after a Chevron diesel spill in February 2021. Photo courtesy of California Fish and Wildlife)

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