Agency calls for stricter rules after US Chevron refinery fire

15 April 2013 21:57  [Source: ICIS news]

Stricter regulations needed in wake of US Chevron refinery fire - CSBHOUSTON (ICIS)--Regulatory agencies need more resources to monitor US refineries, and safety regulations need to be more authoritative, the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) investigation board said on Monday in unveiling its draft report on the August 2012 Chevron refinery fire in Richmond, California.

The CSB recommended that had stricter regulations been in place that did more than recommend changes or fixes, an accident such as the 6 August 2012 blaze that injured six people and caused more than 15,000 area residents to seek medical treatment could have been avoided.

“The regulatory regime allowed it to happen,” said the CSB’s Rafael Moure-Eraso.

Both the CSB and Chevron have 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 last week, 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.

The Chevron report concluded that enhanced component inspection likely would have alerted refinery personnel to the problem, and the US oil giant said it is implementing procedures to address the underlying safety, mechanical integrity and oversight issues they have identified.

The CSB investigators on Monday emphasised that what led to the refinery fire was not simply a faulty pipe.

“Make no mistake, the ultimate issue is not corrosion but how to make effective corporate decisions,” Moure-Eraso said.

Chevron had identified the sulphidation problem several times over the last 10 years but only implemented “piecemeal” fixes, said the CSB’s Daniel Horowitz.

“There was no major intervention,” Moure-Eraso said.

Existing regulations did not demand the company do more, he pointed out.

The CSB urged Chevron work with local, county, state and federal regulators to create better safety standards for refineries that would be an example for other US refiners. The investigative team called on Chevron and other refiners to implement a more-stringent inherently safer material (ISM) process that mandates they change equipment to safer materials when those ISMs become available.

The board also called on Chevron to inspect for corrosion in piping at the Richmond plant – something Chevron said last week it has done – as well as at its other US refineries.

Chevron and other refiners should develop a system that spends just as much time evaluating plant and process hazards as it does evaluating the safeguards put in place to avert disaster, said the CSB’s Don Holmstrom.

The CSB will present its interim report on the refinery blaze on Friday at a public meeting in Richmond. A final report is to be issued later this year.

In January, 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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