By Bay City News Service
Federal investigators looking into last week's fire at the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond said Tuesday that they want to know why the 8-inch carbon steel pipe that failed wasn't replaced in November during a round of maintenance.
At a news conference outside the refinery, U.S. Chemical Safety Board managing director Daniel Horowitz said, "The pipe could have been replaced in November."
He said, "We're curious about the decision not to replace it" but added that investigators are trying to keep an open mind because their probe is just beginning.
Horowitz said, "We'll find out why the pipe failed" in the fire that broke out at about 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 6.
He said there was "a near disaster for Chevron personnel" because of the large scale of a vapor cloud that engulfed employees who were examining the pipe.
If the vapor cloud had ignited near the employees, many people could have been burned and died, Horowitz said.
Joining Horowitz at the news conference, Donald Holmstrom, director of the CSB's Western Regional Office in Denver, said surveillance video from a Chevron camera at the refinery shows that the vapor cloud was about 200 feet high and was taller than the refinery's tower.
Horowitz said, "The scale of the vapor cloud that can be seen in the video is very sobering."
He said investigators will be looking at the safety practices of both Chevron and the refinery industry in general.
Holmstrom said investigators will be looking at a wide variety of issues, including corrosion on the pipe.
Horowitz said Chevron has been cooperative with federal investigators so far and will be meeting with investigators on Wednesday.
The CSB is one of four agencies that are investigating the fire at the Chevron refinery. The other probes are being conducted by the California division of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.
The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating serious chemical accidents.
CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems.
Holmstrom said, "We're a scientific agency and we don't fine people or companies but we make recommendations to make industry practices safer."
He said, "We're institutional agents of change for the protection of workers, the public and the environment."
Horowitz said, "Our role is to look at the safety programs that are in place holistically and make sure they are adequate."
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