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Safety Lapses At Chevron

A 2012 plant accident at a California refinery was preventable, report says

by Jeff Johnson
April 19, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 16

Animation of Fire at Chevron's Richmond Refinery
Credit: USCSB

Missed opportunities to apply inherently safer technologies, a failure to recognize and correct workplace hazards, and the lack of industrial safeguards led to an explosion, fire, and release of a huge vapor cloud at a California refinery in August 2012, says a federal report. The plume swept across a residential community near the Chevron refinery in Richmond, sending 15,000 people to area hospitals.

An interim analysis of the accident, released last week by the Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) blames the Chevron refinery’s management as well as a host of regulatory bodies for failing to take actions that could have prevented the accident.

Specifically, the cause of the accident was extremely corroded carbon steel piping that ultimately ruptured in a crude oil processing unit, according to CSB. Chevron was aware of the corroded piping for a decade and failed to correct it, CSB notes.

Under Chevron’s inherently safer technologies policy, the pipe should have been replaced with one made of a less reactive material, such as stainless steel. The use of inherently safer technologies is encouraged by city, county, state, and federal regulations but not required, CSB says.

Chevron last week issued its own accident report, acknowledging failures to act on 2002 inspection reports that identified the corrosion. The company said it was enhancing its inspection programs.

But CSB notes that even when Chevron replaced the defective piping after the accident it still failed to use stainless steel piping.



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