Chevron pipe choice found to meet codes
Jaxon Van Derbeken
Updated 10:31 pm, Wednesday, December 19, 2012
fire-damaged sections of its Richmond refinery meets industry standards and fire codes, according to two experts advising city officials who must decide whether to approve the company's reconstruction plans.
Both experts, however, stopped short of endorsing Chevron's decision to use a type of metal known as 9 Chrome, which the company says will resist the corrosion that destroyed a section of pipe at its refinery and led to the huge Aug. 6 blaze.
Federal investigators have demanded that Chevron justify its choice in light of a refinery fire in February in Washington state that started after a corrosion-weakened 9 Chrome line sprang a leak.
After prompting by the Richmond City Council, city officials brought in experts to evaluate whether 9 Chrome met fire codes. The council also asked the experts to determine whether the metal was the safest material, something neither one did in letters to the city.
Both experts agreed, however, that 9 Chrome and Chevron's process of deciding what pipe to use met industry standards and county fire codes. Their letters to the city were released Wednesday.
Jim McLaughlin, a former Chevron engineer and now private consultant, concluded that Chevron had a "reasonable explanation" for dismissing the February fire at a BP refinery near Bellingham, Wash., as irrelevant to the Richmond reconstruction. The company says oil heavy in metal-corroding sulfur was allowed to stagnate in the BP pipe that failed, something it says won't happen in Richmond.
The pipe that failed in Richmond was made of carbon steel. Federal investigators have questioned whether a third material, stainless steel, would be a safer choice for the Richmond refinery. But McLaughlin agreed with Chevron's concern that stainless steel could be vulnerable to another, less detectable threat, stress corrosion cracking.
Such cracking is hard to identify before it leads to a disaster, McLaughlin said, and corrosion rates for 9 Chrome are "more predictable."
He cautioned, however, that his review dealt only with whether Chevron's choice met fire code and industry standards, and did not "constitute a professional opinion that Chevron should install 9 Chrome in its repair project."
Another oil company veteran turned consultant, David Hendrix, told the city that Chevron "followed a logical, technically sound and defendable basis" for deciding what pipe to use.
Hendrix said he was not in a position to "fully evaluate Chevron's selection" of 9 Chrome. But assuming that both it and stainless steel pipe resist corrosion equally, Chevron's reasoning for picking 9 Chrome is "appropriate," he wrote.
Richmond is under pressure from Chevron to approve the reconstruction project. The company has said it wants the refinery fully online by January, and that the company will lay off as many as 600 workers if the city doesn't issue permits by Thursday.
Councilman let down
City Councilman Tom Butt said Wednesday he is "a little bit disappointed in both reports."
"Code requirements are the minimum," Butt said, and industry standards are sometimes "the lowest common denominator."
"I would like to see something that said, 'In our opinion, this is the safest thing that Chevron can do to protect the community,' " Butt said. "That wasn't in there."
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board, which is investigating the Richmond fire and has subpoenaed Chevron records related to the company's decision to rebuild with 9 Chrome, said it wasn't advising city officials on what pipe to approve.
U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, who represents Richmond, weighed in Tuesday. He wrote to Richmond officials that Chevron was pressuring them to act before the company had fully complied with the federal subpoena.
In a letter to the City Council on Wednesday, Chevron outlined its actions and said it had been responsive to officials' requests for information about it decision-making process, writing, "We are very disappointed in the (Miller) letter, which contains multiple factual inaccuracies and significantly mischaracterizes Chevron U.S.A.'s engagement with interested parties in response to the incident."
Jaxon Van Derbeken is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: email@example.com
Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Chevron-pipe-choice-found-to-meet-codes-4133489.php#ixzz2FnkkcwBW