CSB Report: Chevron Ignored Safety Procedures Prior to Refinery Fire

By Chemical Processing staff

Apr 18, 2013

Chevron failed to adequately analyze and document refinery safety technology that could have prevented a Chevron refinery fire in Richmond, Calif., Aug. 6, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) concluded in a report.

 “Without such a review, the material selected cannot be analyzed to determine if it is the best inherently safer solution for the process in order to minimize risk.” the CSB report says. “Chevron has repeatedly failed to implement the proposed inherently safer recommendations.” Had this been done, the investigation team concluded, the accident could have been prevented.”

The report, subject to a board vote at a CSB public meeting in Richmond on April 19, notes that Chevron repeatedly over a 10-year period failed to effectively apply inherently safer design principles and upgrade piping in its crude oil processing unit that was extremely corroded and ultimately ruptured on Aug. 6. The ensuing release of hydrocarbons endangered 19 workers who narrowly escaped from a vapor cloud before it ignited, causing a fire that sent a plume across the area, according to CSB. The accident forced 15,000 people to seek medical treatment.

The CSB investigation team determined that had Chevron followed its own internal recommendations, or been required by local, state or federal regulation to implement inherently safer systems during repairs, it would have years ago upgraded critical crude unit sidecut piping from carbon steel to metallurgy more resistant to metal deterioration caused by the presence of sulfur compounds at high temperatures in the crude unit. Such a material upgrade could have prevented the accident, according to the CSB.

The CSB investigation team proposed to the board urgent recommendations, including that at all its refineries, Chevron perform damage mechanism hazard reviews and ensure safeguards are in place to control identified hazards. Reporting of process safety indicators to enable more effective oversight by federal, state, and local regulatory agencies is also urgently recommended.

The public meeting to consider the draft report is scheduled for April 19 at 6:30 p.m. at the Richmond Memorial Auditorium and Convention Center in Richmond. The meeting will include a detailed presentation by CSB investigators, a computer-animated video recreation of the incident, a stakeholder panel discussion, and a public comment period.

For more information, visit www.csb.gov.