Thursday, December 19, 2013

Chevron refinery fire report urges tougher state regulation

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Chevron Corp. failed to maintain equipment at a California refinery and has not responded adequately to multiple airborne chemical releases, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday.
The EPA filed a formal notice against Chevron finding 62 violations of federal environmental laws after an investigation spurred by the Aug. 6, 2012, fire.
Federal chemical safety investigators have determined the blaze was caused by the failure of a corroded, 1970s-era pipe that released a massive gas cloud and sent thousands of people to hospitals seeking medical attention.
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board said in a draft report that its investigators believe the Aug. 6, 2012, explosion and blaze might have been prevented by the proposed approach, known as the “safety case” system.
“In the case of the Chevron refinery fire, the reactive system of regulation simply did not work to prevent what was ultimately a preventable accident,” said Board Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso.
The explosion at the refinery's crude unit was caused by a leak in a corroded oil distillation pipe. The resulting fire created a huge plume of polluted black smoke that sent more than 15,000 people to local hospitals for treatment of respiratory problems and other illnesses.
"There would be audits and preventative inspections conducted by the regulator to verify effective implementation of safety case elements," said CSB investigator Dan Tellema.
The CSB recommends California set the standard for the country by following models in places like the United Kingdom, which has 100 inspectors for its five refineries. It's called a safety case model.
"It's very hard for us to fully inspect every one of our refineries, but we do know what happens when you drive a system to failure, as what happened at the Chevron plant," said St. Sen. Loni Hancock D-Oakland.
The CSB presented its draft for a 30 day public comment period. The board will be in Richmond January 15 for final adoption.