Blaze Shuts Chevron Refinery

Tuesday, August 7, 2012 @ 07:08 PM gHale

Investigators are still looking for the cause of Monday’s massive blaze at Chevron Corp.’s Richmond oil refinery in California, which may push gasoline prices higher as it disrupts fuel output at the state’s third-largest crude-processing plant.

Chevron’s 240,000-barrel-a-day refinery was shutting production units following a fire that broke out in the No. 4 crude unit at about 6:15 p.m. local time Monday, a person with direct knowledge of operations said. The major fire is out, said a dispatcher at the Richmond Police Department. However, a small flare fire was continuing in a controlled-burn fashion.

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Plant workers first found the leak at 4:30 p.m. and they started evaluating the leak. “In a two-hour period we were evaluating the leak, it got worse and it found and ignition source,” said Mark Ayers, Chevron Richmond’s chief of emergency services.

“It was at first a very small leak, about 20 drops a minute. Once that leak grew, we enacted our emergency process program,” he said.

Right now the plant is completely depressurized. A small fire will continue to burn until the line is depressurized from fuel existing in the line.

“We put together an investigation team (to find the extent of the damage). It will take us some time to truly assess the damage to the plant,” Ayers said.

The Richmond outage threatens to further limit supplies of gasoline after a production unit shut at Valero Energy Corp.’s Benicia plant last month.

The fire in Richmond may have been caused by a leaking diesel line, officials said. All employees at the refinery have been accounted for, and one person ended up treated for minor burns to the wrist, she said.

The plant reported an evacuation after the fire broke out, a filing with the California Emergency Management Agency shows.

The Contra Costa County health-services department issued a shelter-in-place advisory for Richmond, North Richmond and San Pablo because of the fire. The agency recommended residents stay inside their homes or the nearest buildings, bring pets indoors, close doors and windows, and make sure vents and fireplaces are closed.

The Richmond plant is about 110 years old, according to Chevron’s website. Built on a peninsula of low hills rising from San Francisco Bay, the refinery became the West Coast’s largest and most-advanced upon its completion in July 1902. The refinery produces gasoline, jet fuel, diesel, lubricants and other oil products, according to the company’s website.

Chevron shut a crude unit at Richmond on Nov. 14 after vacuum residuum, made up of heavy hydrocarbons, leaked from a bleeder on a filter and “auto ignited,” Chevron said in a filing to county regulators following that incident. The unit returned to service later that same month. A crude unit at the refinery also caught fire in January 2007.

The county’s hazardous materials division was at the refinery testing air quality after the fire, according to a notice from the county health department. The plant released sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, hydrogen oxide, sulfuric acid and nitrogen dioxide because of the fire, the state filing shows.

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