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September 04, 2012
Safety board to pursue full investigation of Chevron fire

The U.S Chemical Safety Board (CSB) will launch an investigation into the causes of an early August fire at the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, northeast of San Francisco.     A seven-member CSB team has been conducting witness interviews and reviewing documents at the site.

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According to the CSB, the fire occurred when a combustible hydrocarbon liquid known as gas-oil leaked from an 8-inch pipe connected to a crude oil distillation tower in the refinery’s crude unit.

Workers initially noted the leak and were in the process of attempting repairs on piping when the leak suddenly intensified. Due to the high temperature of the material in the tower (more than 600º F.), the gas-oil formed a large flammable vapor cloud.

CSB Team Leader Dan Tillema said a large number of workers were engulfed in the vapor cloud. “These workers might have been killed or severely injured had they not escaped the cloud as the release rate escalated, and the cloud ignited shortly thereafter.”

Although no workers were killed, CSB says the incident represents one of the most serious refinery incidents in the United States in recent years. Area emergency rooms reported hundreds of visits by community members with symptoms ranging from anxiety to respiratory distress.

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