Did Chevron’s Refinery Fire Deserve Just a Finger Shake From Regulators?

Federal safety investigators from the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board issued a severe critique Wednesday of Chevron’s (NYSE:CVX) response to its huge refinery fire last August. The agency compiled a technical report in conjunction with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) that evaluated the condition of Chevron’s piping from samples taken from the Richmond, California, refinery.

On the day of the accident, August 6, 2012, a pipe leading from a unit that processed oil into hydrocarbon products began leaking, causing a dense, white cloud to stretch approximately 1,000 feet into the air above the plant before it ignited and triggered a massive blaze.

Analysis revealed that damaged 8-inch pipe, which was installed in 1976, had ruptured due to “severe sulfidation corrosion,” and furthermore, the tested samples showed a very low level of corrosion-inhibiting silicon.

From this diagnosis, Cal/OSHA Chief Ellen Widess concluded that the fire was not accidental, but the result of negligence. “This report confirms what Chevron already knew – that the pipe was severely corroded and should have been replaced – but failed to act on before the August fire,” she said in a statement. “This failure to act was included among the multiple Serious and Willful Serious citations issued to Chevron.”

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