By Bay City News Service
Operations are set to resume at a unit of Chevron's Richmond refinery involved in a major fire last August after state regulators today (Friday) lifted the order that shut it down.
The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health lifted the order prohibiting use at Chevron's Crude Unit #4 around 11 a.m. today, according to Cal/OSHA spokesman Peter Melton.
The order has been in place since shortly after the Aug. 6 incident, which caused minor injuries to six people and caused a toxic plume that spread for miles and prompted more than 15,000 people to go to area hospitals complaining of breathing problems.
The order was lifted after what Melton called an extensive assessment by three members of the agency's Process Safety Management staff and an inspector from Contra Costa County.
The assessment included a review of Chevron's documents on processes and management of change and worker training, as well as interviews with plant operators to assess their training, Melton said.
Chevron officials welcomed the decision, saying they had worked more than 1.2 million hours over the past 242 days to repair the crude unit.
"We have also implemented a number of actions based on the preliminary findings from our investigation of the incident in order to strengthen safety and reliability of the refinery," Chevron said in a statement.
A technical report issued by Cal/OSHA and the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board in February found that the fire was caused by corrosion in an 8-inch steel pipe.
Chevron had known about corrosion in the pipe since 2002, but did not act to replace or repair it before the fire, according to the report.
Cal/OSHA fined Chevron $963,200 in January, the agency's largest fine and the maximum legally allowed, for 25 alleged worker safety violations that occurred before, during and after the pipeline rupture.
Chevron has said it will appeal some of the citations, but a hearing date has not yet been set, officials said today.
A public meeting on the Chevron refinery fire, led by state Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Oakland, and Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, was under way in Richmond this afternoon. The hearing includes reports from Cal/OSHA and other regulatory agencies.
Hancock and Skinner both announced bills in February in response to the refinery fire.
Hancock's Senate Bill 691 would raise the civil penalties that air polluters must pay for air quality regulation violations, while Skinner's Assembly Bill 1165 would require unsafe conditions at refineries to be corrected quickly even if the company is appealing air quality violation citations.
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