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U.S. Criminal Probe Targets CA Refinery

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

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Chevron Corp.’s troubled refinery in Richmond, CA, is the subject of a federal criminal investigation for allegedly bypassing pollution control equipment and burning off gas emissions, in possible violation of a federal court order, news reports say.

 Tens of thousands of area residents were forced to shelter indoors after the blast.

 Facebook / Drew Dellinger

Tens of thousands of residents were forced to shelter indoors after the blast.

The 110-year-old refinery—one of California’s largest—is the same one where a corroded pipe exploded Aug. 6, releasing a large vapor cloud that ignited near workers. Five workers were injured, and the blasts and fire forced tens of thousands of area residents to shelter in their homes.

The new criminal probe is unrelated to the August accident.

80% Pipe Thinning

The cause of the August explosion remains under investigation, but officials have been focusing on an eight-inch section of pipe thinned by corrosion and, possibly, high heat. Federal investigators told the Associated Press that the wall of the failed pipe had thinned to 1/16 of an inch—about the thickness of a penny—from its original 5/16 of an inch.

Nigel Hearne, general manager of Chevron Richmond, told reporters and residents recently that the company thought the pipe was more susceptible to thinning when exposed to high temperatures, “a weakness that was not fully understood or acted upon before the corroded conduit exploded,” The Contra Costa Times reported.

 Damage at the refinery is still being assessed, six weeks after the explosions and fire.

 U.S. Chemical Safety Board

Damage at the refinery is still being assessed weeks after the explosions and fire.

Hearne said the segment that failed was part of a larger 200-foot-long pipe that was inspected in June at 19 points. The inspection missed that segment, he said.

Chevron officials told Bloomberg News that they suspected sulfidation corrosion as the cause of the pipe rupture. The refinery is inspecting all similar pipes and has found at least one that must be replaced, Hearne said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board is among the officials and experts asking why the failed pipe was not replaced during an inspection a year ago. On the same inspection, Chevron replaced a larger, similarly corroded pipe connected to the one that later failed.

Criminal Investigation

The criminal investigation, meanwhile, relates to a 2009 discovery by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District that Chevron Richmond employees had routed gas emissions around monitoring equipment and then burned off (flared) the excess, violating local rules.

“The agency forced the company to end the practice it said was used at least 27 times in four years,” Wayne Kino, the district’s enforcement manager, told Bloomberg News. Chevron paid a $170,000 penalty to settle the agency’s civil case.

 Photos released by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board show the condition of some pipes in the area of the blast.

 U.S. Chemical Safety Board

Photos released by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board show the condition of some pipes in the area of the blast.

Kino told a variety of news outlets that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was investigating the refinery’s emissions over a three-year period. Chevron confirmed to the news outlets that it was informed of EPA’s investigation in March.

“We are currently cooperating with the government’s investigation,” Chevron spokesman Sean Comey has said. “This was certainly not done intentionally. Safety and protecting people and the environment is one of our core values as a company, and we take that responsibility very seriously.”

EPA does not comment on ongoing enforcement matters.

A flaring system is used in emergencies to eliminate gases that could be increasing to dangerous levels, Kino said. Refineries had been flaring gas for routine maintenance before the local air quality board imposed standards in 2004, he said.

A criminal prosecution might mean further fines or even jail time for employees involved at the Richmond refinery.

Repairs, Other Accidents

Meanwhile, Chevron will need several more weeks just to assess the damage at the 245,000-barrel-a-day refinery, which employs about 1,200 people, Hearne told reporters Tuesday. A timeline for repairs will be established, and repairs are likely to take several months after that.

The same plant was the site of a huge fiery explosion in 1999 that also forced residents indoors.

In June 2011, three painting contractors and a fire-watch officer were killed in a huge explosion at a Chevron refinery in Wales, in the UK. A fifth worker was critically injured.

   

Tagged categories: Corrosion; Explosions; Oil and Gas; Pipeline; Pipelines

Comment from Car F., (9/26/2012, 10:32 AM)

The criminals are running amock in this country, killing workers, poisoning neighbourhoods and destroying communities apparently with absolute impunity. It is time to get hard on crime, whatever happened to "three strikes you are out", was that applicable only to mentally unstable, uneducated, colored, petty criminals?...is time to get tough on crime.


Comment from Chuck Pease, (9/26/2012, 12:20 PM)

quote from article that makes me laugh. “We are currently cooperating with the government’s investigation,” Chevron spokesman Sean Comey has said. “This was certainly not done intentionally. Safety and protecting people and the environment is one of our core values as a company, and we take that responsibility very seriously.” The only thing Chevron or many refineries take seriously is there bottom line and executive bonuses. When will Americans get tired of the same old rhetoric and force our elected officials to actually do their jobs and start enforcing and jailing those responsible?


Comment from Mark Schilling, (9/27/2012, 8:33 AM)

Have any of you guys ever actually been in a refinery? I think not.


Comment from Chuck Pease, (9/27/2012, 11:12 AM)

Answer is yes I have. Evidently you are or were a refinery worker.For that I am sorry. Was just speaking my mind. This is still the USA where I have a right to do so.


Comment from Tim Race, (9/28/2012, 8:39 AM)

Mr. Pease are you serious? .....Collectively known as defamation, libel and slander are civil wrongs that harm a reputation; decrease respect, regard, or confidence; or induce disparaging, hostile, or disagreeable opinions or feelings against an individual or entity. The injury to one's good name or reputation is affected through written or spoken words or visual images. The laws governing these torts are identical. To recover in a libel or slander suit, the plaintiff must show evidence of four elements: that the defendant conveyed a defamatory message; that the material was published, meaning that it was conveyed to someone other than the plaintiff; that the plaintiff could be identified as the person referred to in the defamatory material; and that the plaintiff suffered some injury to his or her reputation as a result of the communication. To prove that the material was defamatory, the plaintiff must show that at least one other person who saw or heard it understood it as having defamatory meaning. It is necessary to show not that all who heard or read the statement understood it to be defamatory, but only that one person other than the plaintiff did so. Therefore, even if the defendant contends that the communication was a joke, if one person other than the plaintiff took it seriously, the communication is considered defamatory.


Comment from Mike McCloud, (9/28/2012, 8:48 AM)

I have only worked in one refinery but also in many fuel terminals and I have found the petroleum companies have the most stringent work rules. the company I work for has not had an injury in over twenty years at a petroleum facility and I know this is because of the strict work safe policies.


Comment from Mark Schilling, (9/28/2012, 11:58 AM)

To Chuck Pease - No, I am not "evidently a refinery worker." And there is no need for you to be "sorry" for what you perceive to be my sad state. How you could jump to that conclusion is mystifying. Yes, you have a right to speak your mind and say what you want - no matter how uninformed. As for me, yes, I have worked for "big oil." And yes, I have been in dozens of refineries, throughout the U.S. and to Malaysia, Thailand, Australia. I could not count the number of offshore oil and gas production platforms I have been to, or other associated onshore facilities. There's no need for you to feel sorry for me. I know what I'm talking about. Tim Race and Mike McCloud have it right. Be careful what you say when you don't really know what you are talking about. Tim Race hammered on the legal aspects. Mike McCloud nailed it on the technical aspects. The petrochemical industry is inherently dangerous. As Mike noted - there are stingent work rules. Those of us who have worked for years in the industry are keenly aware of this. There will be mistakes and mishaps. When was the last time you or any of us were in a fender-bender? Accidents do happen. It is wrong to scream criminal negligence when you don't have a clue.


Comment from Thomas Matlock, (9/29/2012, 10:41 PM)

Well, Mr Pease and Mr Schilling, I have not worked in a refinery. And Mr McCloud, kudos to your company for its safety record. However, this industry has an international record, as I am positive you are really aware of Mr Schilling, of the disasters this industry it has left behind in every country you have mentioned. And yes the industry is inherently dangerous, especially if you defer maintenance for years, if not decades to pay an dividend, and walk away from environmental disasters once you have spent enough with easily bought politicians the world over. And no matter how stringent the 'work' rules may be, managenment manages to dance away from all that, time after time. And you can save the attempt to intimidate me for besmirching the non-existent good names of Big Oil and Gas. And to compare the '?m?i?s?t?a?k?e?s? ?a?n?d? ?m?i?s?h?a?p?s?'? negligent, if not criminal, actions of many of the big companies to a personal fender bender is just ludicrous on its face. Go shill somewhere else. McLoud


Comment from Kay Melcher, (9/29/2012, 11:12 PM)

SHAME ON YOU, TIM RACE. You deliberately left out of your little diatribe the fact that a statement can only be defamatory under the law if it is a FALSE statement. IT IS NOT DEFAMATION IF IT'S TRUE. I cannot believe the nerve of you people, trying to illegitimately intimidate regular Americans so that they won't speak their minds about the oil and gas companies. Car F. and Chuck Pease, you stick to your guns. You have every right to do so.


Comment from Mary Chollet, (9/30/2012, 7:53 AM)

Ladies and gentlemen: Please refrain from personal attacks in the Comment section, and keep your comments on a professional level. Kindly see our comment posting policy for our guidelines. Thank you for your cooperation.


Comment from Tim Race, (10/1/2012, 9:19 AM)

Ms. Melcher et al my quotation of the defamation definition was not intended to "illegitmately intimidate", nor was it a commentary on the merits of Mr. Pease's remarks. I was merely pointing out that to speak ones mind is not a legal right under all circumstances. Pease essentially called the Chevron spokesman a liar, and that my friends can be dangerous ground. Ms. Melcher stated that I "deliberately" left out part the definition of defamation. I did not. I cut and pasted the definition from a legal dictionary. Ms. Melcher also assumed that the intent and net effect of my comments were to "intimidate" Mr. Pease and other "Americans" from speaking their minds with regards to the oil and gas industry. That was not my intent and I am sorry if even one person thought that my interjection was intimidating. Although I am deaf in one ear, my hearing is still pretty good - (smiling) no need to shout.


Comment from M. Halliwell, (10/1/2012, 11:19 AM)

Perhaps it is where I am, perhaps it is the fact I'm involved more with the environmental side than the coatings side, but from my personal experience, there are good oil companies and bad ones when it comes to safety, maintenance and the environment. I've known some who are almost hyper-vigilant on their HSE and maintenance programs: choosing to avoid issues and lawsuits, shut downs, regulatory orders and such. I have also known others where the lawsuits, orders, accidents and injuries are a mere "cost of doing business." I am glad that CA is taking what could be deliberate pollution seriously and hopefully, if proven, they will levy more than the proverbial slap on the wrist. There are good and bad in all industries, folks, and "big oil" is no different...but let's not paint them all with the same brush (good or bad).


Comment from Chuck Pease, (10/1/2012, 12:23 PM)

Mr. Race where out of my staement did you discern I called anyone a liar. My initial comment was in relation to Mr. Schillings original comment and I pasted the quote Comment from Mark Schilling, (9/27/2012, 8:33 AM) Have any of you guys ever actually been in a refinery? I think not. I was responding to what I percieved as sarcasm on Mr. Schillings part. Mr. Rice, the day I lose my right to speak my mind will be the day I wake up and wont be able to recognize the country I was born and reaised in. There was no libel or slander in my response. Lets move on.


Comment from Mark Schilling, (10/1/2012, 12:24 PM)

Hello people?! I did not personally attack anyone - so grow a brain. Pay attention. Chuck Pease exclaimed that he was just speaking his mind. He wrote, "This is still the USA where I have a right to do so." What was the point? I think I got it and I acknowledged that I am for free speech (to an extent). I certainly did not attack him personally. There would be no point in doing so. Opinions are just like "you-know-whats." Everybody has one. My point was meant to be taken generally. Ignorant people get to speak their minds too. I have no problem with free speech. I simply see that there is thoughtless, uninformed talk as well. All opinions are not equally valid or as well thought out. Information, misinformation, and disinformation all look the same. The difference is some of it is just plain wrong, no matter what one chooses to believe. Again, I mean no personal offense. But when someone chooses to bark about about their "rights" to speak out when they could instead be making a focused, concerted effort to explain their position, that signals a problem. Explain your position. Don't lecture us about how as a citizen you have a right to voice your opinion - because that is a waste of time. And as for Thomas Matlock's comments about the evil oil industry and environmental disasters - I remember the late 60s in southern California when a well on an offshore oil platform blew out and the media went nuts. There was nothing much on the TV news except for oil soaked birds and dead sea creatures. The mantra is that the only thing in the universe worse than the oil companies is drug dealers. The sensationalist media told us that the damage from the spill was irreperable. Nonsense! I've been there many times through the 70, 80s, and 90s - on the beach at Santa Barbara and also on that specific oil production platform. The damage was not irreperable. In fact, for decades now it is as if this horrible "disaster" never even happened. It's like nothing happened. It is the sky is falling, global warming, killing the planet story that sells - and we know who the evil bad guys are. It sells but it doesn't fly. Time Race has it right on this one. I don't see how he tried to intimidate anyone, nor did I. There are two requirements for slander. The statements need to be both false and malicious. We should all be more careful how we direct our anger. Most of us are so wrong on so much, so much of the time. Couple in some anger and we can quickly get into trouble. Again, no personal offense to anyone.


Comment from Tim Race, (10/1/2012, 2:19 PM)

Mr. Pease I was referring to your original comment from 9/26 wherein you quote Chevron spokesman Sean Comey who said they take this very seriously and you say not, and I quote, "The only thing Chevron or many refineries take seriously is there bottom line and executive bonuses." I was in fact just trying to be helpful, because to me, it sounded like you were calling Mr. Comey a liar. I'm one that believes that stater's of opinion should be willing and able to back up their statements with facts and reasoned logic. And I do find it tiresome when people bluster and speak out and then choose to hide behind the constitutional apron of free-speech. See M. Halliwell's comments for a well reasoned and logical expression of an opinion that is based on first hand experience. See Mark Schilling's fact-based discussion of the environmental recovery in the aftermath of the Santa Barbara oil spill. See Mike McCloud's recitation of one companies good record. It's comments like these that elevate the discussion and broaden our thinking and knowledge.


Comment from Mark Schilling, (10/2/2012, 7:34 AM)

Tim Race has it right. Go back to the beginning on this one and look at the comments from "Car F." He said, "The criminals are running amock in this country." (amok) Killing and poisoning and destroying with impunity, and blah, blah, blah, pure vitriol, blah, vent the spleen and blah. And some nonsense about being "applicable only to mentally unstable, uneducated, colored, petty criminals." WOW!! Now layer in the comments from Chuck Pease that the ONLY thing that Chevron cares about is executive bonuses and Chevron executives need to be thrown in jail. Right. I have been in the Chevron Richmond refinery. I have friends and former co-workers who work there now. I find some of these blog comments to be ignorant and deplorable because the ONLY point being expressed is some kind of misguided ANGER. The Chevron spokesman said that the accident was not intentional. Well, DUH?! Of course not. Why is Mr. Pease admittedly "laughing" at that? Mr. Pease did indeed call the Chevron spokesman a liar. Look again at the comments from Mr. Pease. He starts out talking about "laughing" and he conludes that we need to be "jailing" people. I see fact-free gibberish from so many people on some of these blogs and the worst offenders always seem to be the ones who claim that they have a consititutional right to spout off. They are more concerned about voicing their opinions than they are in educating themselves so they can see beyond their anger and actually form a reasoned opinion. We all need to put aside the anger and stick to the facts.


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