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Chevron Richmond refinery fire could shut crude unit for six months

14 August 2012

The sole crude distillation unit at Chevron’s Richmond, California, refinery may be shut for at least four to six months after the August 6 fire, industry intelligence group IIR Energy said in a report quoted by Reuters. Investigators have found "extensive damage" in the cooling towers, pipe racks and heater tower.

Neither Chevron nor investigators have given any timeline for resuming full operations at the 245,000-barrel-per-day (bpd) plant, California's second largest, following an Aug. 6 fire at its crude unit that caused a spike in regional gasoline prices.

The fire erupted at a pump leaking a substance similar to diesel, according to a preliminary report the company filed with county pollution regulators last week.

Several thousand Bay Area residents have filed legal claims against Chevron, seeking compensation for the thick black smoke that sent more than 4,000 people to seek medical care for breathing problems and irritated eyes.

Chevron said most of the claims were for modest amounts, reflecting the fact that there have been no reports of serious injury and nearly all seeking medical care were treated and released after a few hours in the hospital.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District said it was still investigating the fire's effects on the region's air quality.

"While air samples taken near the facility detected normal background levels of toxic air contaminants, there was the potential for significant smoke in the area that impacted residents in the downwind neighborhoods," the district said in a statement Thursday. "The likely source of health impacts from the fire is particulate matter from smoke."

The district said it found one dangerous chemical, acrolein, above safe levels in the air, although safe levels of the chemical often are exceeded in the Bay Area. Acrolein can cause runny noses and irritate eyes.

In all, five separate investigations will be done to determine the cause and effects of the Richmond refinery fire.

The Chemical Safety Board team was standing by with state and company inspectors, waiting for structural and environmental tests to see if it was safe to enter the unit.

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