Report confirms pipe corrosion at US Chevron refinery fire

13 February 2013 23:55  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS)--A report confirmed that the pipe that led to an August fire at Chevron's refinery in Richmond, California had extensive sulphidation corrosion, which caused it to rupture, government agencies said on Wednesday.

Samples of the pipe also had very low concentrations of silicon, which inhibits corrosion, according the report prepared by Anamet.

The report was released by the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) and the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA).

In a statement, Chevron said it did not agree with all of the characterisations in the agencies' statement.

However, the company said that the findings of the report are consistent with its own observations about the fire, made in September.

Chevron is inspecting every pipe component in its crude units that is susceptible to sulphidation corrosion, it said. Any component found to be unsuitable for service will be replaced before Chevron restarts the unit.

The company is almost finished with its own investigation of the fire, Chevron said.

"We want to be clear that our strong focus is on preventing a similar incident from happening in the future. As we have previously communicated, we are implementing corrective actions that will strengthen management oversight, process safety, mechanical integrity and leak response," Chevron said.

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.

“This reports confirms what Chevron already knew – that the pipe was severely corroded and should have been replaced – but failed to act on before the August fire," according to a statement by Cal/OSHA Chief Ellen Widess.

"Chevron’s own metallurgists and pipe inspectors reached the same conclusion and recommended as far back as 2002 that Chevron take action to protect its workers, the community and the environment by replacing the pipe that finally ruptured in 2012," Widess said.

Earlier, Cal/OSHA proposed penalties on Chevron totalling nearly $1m (€740,000) for alleged safety standard violations related to the fire.

Meanwhile, the CSB is still investigating the cause of the accident, and it expects to release a report later this year.

"We hope this report receives widespread attention throughout the petrochemical industry as a precaution to all refiners to carefully examine potential corrosion mechanisms and use the safest possible materials of construction to avoid failures," according to a statement by Rafael Moure-Eraso, CSB chairman.

"Refineries and other plants must incorporate strong mechanical integrity and inherently safer strategies in their process safety management programmes," he said.

($1 = €0.74)

Additional reporting by Jeremy Pafford

By: Al Greenwood
+1 713 525 2645

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