Federal investigators looking into last Monday’s fire at the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond want to know why the 8-inch carbon steel pipe that failed wasn’t replaced in November during a round of maintenance, officials said Sunday.
At that time, the refinery’s crude unit was taken offline, and a 12-inch pipe connected to the same distillation tower was replaced due to corrosion, said Daniel Horowitz, the managing director of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.
Investigators do not yet know if corrosion in the 8-inch pipe caused a leak of hydrocarbon liquid that ignited. Horowitz said he believed the pipe was inspected last year, along with the 12-inch pipe, but that his agency had not yet reviewed the records.
Investigators are also looking into why the crude unit was kept running while workers tried to fix the leak. They said the workers narrowly escaped the vapor cloud that ignited.
The initial leak “had the effect of drawing people in,” Horowitz said. “We want to understand the decision-making around when you attempt to make a repair and when you shut the unit down.”
Chevron spokesman Justin Higgs said the company was cooperating with the probe and was “committed to better understanding the root cause of this incident.”