Contra Costa Times (CA)
September 25, 2012
Chevron’s top official at its local refinery said the company has identified “contributing factors” in the pipe failure that triggered a massive Aug. 6 blaze that shut down a crude unit and sent more than 15,000 people to area hospitals.
The pipe had low silicon content, making it more susceptible to corrosion, refinery General Manager Nigel Hearne said Monday. “We suspect the general thinning of the piping component,” Hearne said, adding that the problem eluded Chevron’s standard tests. “It does not appear this information was fully understood and acted upon.”
During the news conference in a cafeteria on Chevron’s property in Richmond, CA, Hearne also took on recent news reports and a local regulatory agency that has accused Chevron of intentionally flouting air quality regulations in recent years.
While not providing specifics, Hearne said Chevron provided the San Francisco Chronicle with “additional details” not included in a recent report by the newspaper that revealed Chevron is the subject of a criminal investigation for failing to monitor pollutants released by one of its pipes.
The probe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency focuses on emissions, or flaring, that was not recorded by air monitors as required by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, resulting in $170,000 in fines. “There is no reason that the company would have acted as the article suggests,” said Hearne, adding that Chevron became aware of the EPA investigation a couple months ago.
Monday’s news conference followed the report of the criminal investigation that has emboldened critics of the 245,000-barrel-per-day refinery. “As shocking as these new revelations are, I think most people think this is just the tip of the iceberg, and there is a lot more shocking news to come,” said Andres Soto, a local activist and founder of Communities for a Better Environment.
Hearne said the purpose of the news conference was to highlight the fact that the company has identified “contributing factors” to the Aug. 6 blaze, is focused on safety and is cooperating with several federal, state and local agencies in their investigations.
Earlier Monday, an air quality district official said Chevron knowingly flouted regulations aimed at improving air quality. “(Chevron) knew they were flaring, and they knew that unmonitored flaring was not legal,” said Wayne Kino, an enforcement manager for the district.
“Certainly, upper management” was aware the refinery was using a three-inch, unmonitored pipe in violation of a 2005 air quality district rule intended to reduce flaring and emissions at Bay Area refineries, he added.
Hearne said Chevron officials alerted air quality control district inspectors “as soon as we knew the source of the unmetered flare. We need to find out why it was not identified.” He added that emissions from the unmetered flare were “extremely low.”
Hearne said inspections of the pipe that caused the fire were conducted as recently as June. The pipe is 200 feet long, he noted, and was inspected for thickness at 19 locations. “Unfortunately, we did not inspect a 5-foot length” portion of the pipe that failed in August, Hearne said.
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