Refinery fire from a distance

Stephen SchillerThe Chevron refinery explosion was visible from far away.

An August fire and explosion at a refinery in Richmond, Calif. — which sickened 15,000 residents of the San Francisco Bay area — was the result of Chevron not giving a shit about safety.

That’s the paraphrased conclusion of an investigation into the accident by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board. While releasing an interim report Monday, the board said a regulatory overhaul was needed to protect the public from such accidents.

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From the Contra Costa Times:

At a news conference in Emeryville, officials from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board portrayed a refinery that took a Band-Aid approach to plant maintenance — pipes were often clamped as they aged rather than being replaced, and the section of pipe that ruptured had deteriorated to less than half the thickness of a dime. …

“The regulatory regime in which the refinery worked allowed this to happen,” Rafael Moure-Eraso, chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, told a room full of news cameras and reporters at the Hilton Garden Inn.

Moure-Eraso said the refinery industry nationwide is “a very old industry … and there is very little reinvestment by the companies. What happened here is a reflection of the sector in general. We need to be looking at inherently safer technologies. The approach must be not to manage risk but to avoid risk from the beginning.”

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The explosion was caused by a rupture in a corroded pipeline that allowed vapor to escape and ignite. Chevron knew for a decade that the pipeline was corroding away. But Chevron didn’t do anything about it, and then the inevitable happened. From Reuters:

The Safety Board … said Chevron did not act upon six recommendations over 10 years to increase inspection and replace the line at its Richmond, California, refinery with upgraded pipe.

During the 10 years before the August 6 blast, refinery officials saw signs the pipeline’s walls were thinning due to corrosion from rising sulfur content in the increasingly diverse crude oil grades the refinery was processing, the CSB found.

Chevron’s apparent negligence cost its CEO some of his potential bonus payment last year, but he still took home a gargantuan paycheck. From a Contra Costa Times report published last week:

Chevron’s top boss, John Watson, received 30 percent more in total compensation in fiscal 2012, despite a cut in his bonus after a string of accidents for the energy giant, a regulatory filing Thursday shows.

The company awarded Watson a total compensation package of $32.2 million last year. That was up 30 percent from a total pay package of $24.7 million in fiscal 2011, a proxy filing ahead of the company’s annual meeting showed. …

Chevron’s board of directors last month decided to cut the bonuses for the CEO and other top executives after a series of mishaps jolted the company, including an August 2012 fire at the company’s refinery, a November 2011 oil leak from the ocean floor near Brazil and a January 2012 explosion on a oil rig off the coast of Nigeria that killed two.

Glad to hear Watson is going to be OK, despite all those terrible accidents that affected other Chevron workers and innocent nearby residents.