After finding out routine safety inspections failed to uncover the corrosion that contributed to last month’s fiery incident at its Richmond, CA, refinery, Chevron is now spreading the word to other San Francisco Bay Area refineries.
Chevron sent an industry alert to the other refineries Wednesday, saying “We know a section of the pipe failed. We are pretty sure we know why it failed. While we inspected several sections of the 200-foot long pipe, we did not inspect all sections. This is what we are doing now, and this is what we think other refineries should do too.”
“What we have done is enhanced our inspection program to try and prevent something like this from happening again,” said Chevron spokesperson Sean Comey. “And today we are sharing what we’ve learned, even though our investigation is ongoing, with other companies so that they can take any effective action they might need to try and prevent something similar from happening.”
The pipe that failed at the refinery last month had an abnormally low level of a key protective ingredient that went undetected during the company’s tests, leaving it vulnerable to corrosion caused by the sulfur and high temperatures in crude oil, the manager in charge of the facility said.
The chemical composition of the decades-old, eight-inch pipe section was a contributing factor to the Aug. 6 blaze that sent thousands of people to the hospital with smoke-related complaints and knocked offline one of the nation’s largest refineries, said Nigel Hearne, general manager of Chevron Richmond.
The section of the pipe that failed, contributing to the August fire, had a thinning pipe issue called sulfidation corrosion, experts said. Several things have to happen for this problem to occur: The temperature inside a pipe with sulfur compounds must exceed 450 degrees Fahrenheit and the pipe must be made of carbon steel with low silicon. All those elements contribute to the early corrosion of the pipes.
This is something Chevron admits it knew, but did not act upon.
The section of the pipe in question is now under analysis and testing and Chevron said the complete results may not be known for some time.