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Just last summer, the Chevron Corp. Richmond, CA, refinery caught fire after a corroded pipe leaked high-temperature gas oil and now the oil giant paid out $10 million and started corrective actions.

Among the changes made at the 245,000-barrels-per-day refinery are more testing to detect thinning pipes, new leak-response protocols and increasing employee training, according to the 11-page report Chevron filed with the Contra Costa County Health Services Department Monday.

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The payouts result from 23,900 claims from affected residents, area hospitals and local government agencies. More than 15,000 people went to area hospitals in the hours and days after the Aug. 6 fire, which spewed a plume of black smoke that was visible for miles. Several workers also suffered minor injuries.

Chevron did not reveal how many total claims it received.

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Most of the $10 million the company has paid “went to local hospitals for medical exams and treatment immediately following the incident,” Chevron spokesman Sean Comey said.

Comey said the safety upgrades would address carbon steel piping with low-silicon content, which he said is susceptible to accelerated corrosion when exposed to “high-temperature sulfidation.”

“This thinning was not readily detected by existing corrosion-monitoring locations on the pipe segment that failed,” Comey said. “To address this issue, the company has begun inspecting all components potentially susceptible to accelerated (high-temperature sulfidation) corrosion and will complete inspection of all such components in the No. 4 Crude Unit before restarting the unit. … This inspection standard is being applied throughout our global manufacturing system.”

Critics said Chevron operators failed at multiple levels leading up to the fire, including spotty testing of old pipes for strength and thickness and failing to promptly shut down the unit when it sprung a leak.

Asked whether the leak-response changes suggest that operators should have shut down the unit earlier on Aug. 6, Comey wrote, “We’re enhancing leak response protocols to ensure appropriate process safety information is considered when evaluating leaks (and) reinforcing the authority that everyone has to issue immediate stop work authority and initiate a shutdown if conditions warrant.”

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