Corrected: US Chevron faces nearly $1m in penalties for refinery fire

31 January 2013 00:04  [Source: ICIS news]

Correction: In the ICIS story headlined "US Chevron proposes nearly $1m in penalties for refinery fire" dated 30 January, please read the headline as "US Chevron faces…" instead of “US Chevron proposes…".

HOUSTON (ICIS)--The California Division of Occupational Safety & Health (Cal/OSHA) on Wednesday proposed penalties on Chevron totalling nearly $1m for alleged safety standard violations related to the 6 August fire at the company’s Richmond refinery.

Twenty-three violations were classified as "serious" due to what Cal/OSHA said was the realistic possibility of worker injuries and deaths in the fire. Eleven of these serious violations were also classified as "willful" because Cal/OSHA said it found Chevron did not take reasonable actions to eliminate refinery conditions that it knew posed hazards to employees, and because it intentionally and knowingly failed to comply with state safety standards.

Cal/OSHA said that the total proposed fines – $963,200 (€712,800) – are the highest in the organisation’s history.

"Ensuring worker safety is the employer's responsibility," said Christine Baker, Cal/OSHA’s Department of Industrial Relations director. "Refineries must take the steps needed to prevent incidents like the August Chevron fire. Failure to do so can pose great dangers to workers, surrounding communities and the environment."

Though it is still reviewing the citations, Chevron did not agree with many of Cal/OSHA’s findings and intends to appeal, said Sean Comey, Chevron’s external communications advisor for policy, government and public affairs

“Chevron takes our commitment to safe operations seriously,” Comey said. “Although we acknowledge that we failed to live up to our own expectations in this incident, we do not agree with several of the Cal/OSHA findings and its characterisation of some of the alleged violations as ‘willful.’”

On 6 August, a fire broke out at the refinery when gas oil leaked from a severely corroded pipe connected to a crude oil distillation tower in Chevron's No 4 Crude Unit. Chevron managers did not shut down the unit but instructed workers to remove insulation, which led to the pipe's rupture and a massive fire, according to Cal/OSHA. While no workers were seriously injured, some 15,000 residents of surrounding communities sought treatment after breathing emissions from the fire, Cal/OSHA said.

Cal/OSHA launched an investigation into the fire and the leak repair procedures at the refinery. According to the agency, the probe found that Chevron did not follow the recommendations of its inspectors and metallurgical scientists to replace the corroded pipe that ruptured. Those recommendations dated back to 2002, Cal/OHSA said.

Also, Cal/OSHA said Chevron did not follow the company’s emergency shutdown procedures when the leak was identified, and did not protect its employees and employees of Brand Scaffolding, who were working at the leak site.

Morey said that Chevron submitted an update on 28 January to Contra Costa Health Services on the status of the company’s internal investigation into the fire and the corrective actions Chevron has developed and implemented to strengthen safety, mechanical integrity and oversight at the refinery. Those actions, according to Morey, include:

•Enhancing inspections of piping components potentially susceptible to corrosion, a policy that is being applied worldwide in Chevron’s refinery system.

•Strengthening reliability programmes for piping and equipment, and enhancing competency requirements for leaders, inspectors and engineers.

•Strengthening leak response protocols and reinforcing the authority that everyone has to shut down equipment.

•Creating more management oversight and accountability for process safety and re-emphasising focus on process safety.

The crude processing unit damaged in the fire is still being repaired, and Chevron anticipates restarting it in the first quarter of this year, Morey said. Other parts of the refinery were not affected by the blaze and continue to operate, although at a reduced capacity, he said.

When fully operational, the Richmond refinery can produce 240,000 bbl/day.

($1 = €0.74)

By: Jeremy Pafford
+1 713 525 2653

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