Feds say Calif. should bolster refinery oversight

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 5, 2013 at 8:26 pm •  Published: April 5, 2013
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RICHMOND, Calif. (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.

"This patchwork system of regulation has serious challenges," Dan Tillema, the board's lead investigator, wrote in testimony prepared for a public meeting in Richmond on Friday.

"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."

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.

Cal-OSHA issued citations after the fire.

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 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.