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Feds to state: Bolster refinery oversight

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POSTED April 5, 2013 9:00 p.m.

RICHMOND  (AP) — Federal investigators looking into last year's fire at Chevron's Richmond refinery said Friday that the incident shows stronger state oversight of oil refineries is needed.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board, the agency investigating the cause of the Aug. 6 fire, said California workplace safety and the other myriad regulatory agencies charged with refinery oversight lacked the staff and proper training. The board said more rigorous state regulations are needed.

"The California process safety regulatory system lacked sufficient well-trained, technically competent staff and also lacked more rigorous regulatory requirements to require Chevron to reduce safety risk," Dan Tillema, the board's lead investigator, wrote in testimony prepared for a public meeting in Richmond on Friday.

Tillema said California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health conducted only three planned "process safety" inspections of the facility over the six years prior to the fire, and issued no citations.

The blaze, caused by a leak in a 1970s-era pipe that had corroded, sent a large plume of black smoke high into the air. Thousands of nearby residents poured into area hospitals complaining of eye irritation and problems breathing.

The board said there is nothing in the current regulations that require oil refinery operators to perform periodic corrosion reviews, giving regulators no legal footing to force companies to inspect and replace aged equipment.

Plus, the board said current staff at Cal-OSHA needs more and better trained staff.

"Cal/OSHA would benefit from greater process safety staffing with expanded technical qualifications," Tillema wrote.

Chevron had performed internal reviews of its pipe system in 2009, which resulted in a memo calling for a comprehensive inspection to ensure the pipes weren't corroding to dangerous levels.

"This (recommendation) was not implemented by the Chevron Richmond Refinery, and neither Contra Costa (County inspectors) nor Cal-OSHA was aware of this memo," Tillema wrote.

Neither Cal-OSHA nor Chevron returned requests for comment.


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