US Chevron outlines California refinery blaze causes, solutions

12 April 2013 20:23  [Source: ICIS news]

US Chevron outlines California refinery blaze causes, solutionsHOUSTON (ICIS)--An investigation into the August 2012 fire at its Richmond, California, refinery has found “multi-faceted” causes for the incident, the general manager for the Chevron plant said on Friday.

The US-based oil giant released on Friday details on its probe into the 6 August 2012 blaze. Six people were injured and more than 15,000 area residents sought medical treatment after the incident, according to the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB).

Chevron’s investigation concluded that a five-foot carbon steel pipe component failed because of sulphidation corrosion, leading to a leak and then a fire at the refinery.

The sulphidation was accelerated by the low-silicon content of the failed component, Chevron said, adding that such low-silicon components can – and did in this instance – corrode at an accelerated rate not easily detectable by multiple corrosion monitoring locations.

“We have identified what went wrong and are taking steps to prevent a similar incident in the future,” said Nigel Hearne, general manager of the Richmond refinery. “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.”

The investigation report lists four causal factors of the incident.

First, measurements made in 2002 that indicated a piping component in the crude oil processing unit was thinning were not appropriately documented in the inspection report.

Second, 2011 inspections during major maintenance did not include every component subject to sulphidation corrosion.

Third, information from industry and internal experts on ways to guard against the pipe’s corrosion was not disseminated to those making decisions regarding inspections.

Lastly, response teams did not recognize the risk of rupture and ignition after discovering the leaking pipe prior to the fire.

The report concluded that enhanced component inspection likely would have alerted refinery personnel to the potential problem.

Chevron said it is currently implementing procedures to address the underlying safety, mechanical integrity and oversight issues identified in the report.

As part of that effort, the company said it has inspected every component of the unit that caught fire, as well.

Internal communications and oversight of mechanical integrity-related recommendations and inspection plans are being strengthened, and a new protocol for evaluating leaks and shutting down equipment is being implemented, Chevron said. Also, safety expectations are being reemphasised, it said.

Chevron said it will continue to work with government agencies investigating the incident – one of which is the CSB, which will present on 19 April an interim report and safety recommendations from its probe into the fire.

In February, the CSB also determined that the pipe that led to the fire had extensive sulphidation corrosion.

A month before, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) proposed penalties on Chevron totalling nearly $1m (€760,000) for alleged safety standard violations related to the fire.

Chevron announced this month that repair work on the crude oil processing unit has been completed and that it is working to complete the final regulatory steps required to restart it by month's end.

($1 = €0.76)

By: Jeremy Pafford
+1 713 525 2653

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