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  Federal Report Calls for Sweeping Reforms in Aftermath of Chevron Richmond Fire
December 16, 2013

Federal report calls for sweeping reforms in aftermath of Chevron Richmond fire
By Robert Rogers
Contra Costa Times
Posted:   12/16/2013 01:03:01 PM PST | Updated:   about 3 hours ago

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EMERYVILLE -- The U.S. Chemical Safety Board proposed a series of recommendations Monday stemming from last year's Chevron refinery fire, including substantial changes to the way refineries are regulated in California.
The recommendations came within a draft report on the agency's investigation into the Aug. 6, 2012, fire that sent 15,000 residents to hospitals for medical attention and shut down one of the West Coast's major crude units for months.
Officials from the safety board, an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents, briefed the news media on the findings and recommendations Monday afternoon.
The draft report calls on California to replace the current patchwork of largely reactive regulations with a more rigorous, performance-based regulatory regime -- similar to those successfully adopted overseas in regions such as the United Kingdom, Norway and Australia -- known as the "safety case" system.
The draft report is the second of three derived from the CSB's investigation of the fire, which occurred when an aging pipe failed in the refinery's largest crude unit. The fire engulfed 19 workers in flammable vapor -- although workers escaped with relatively minor injuries.
In a news release issued before the media briefing, safety board Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso said, "After exhaustively analyzing the facts, the CSB investigation team found many ways that major refinery accidents like the Chevron fire could be made less likely by improving regulations. Refinery safety rules need to focus on driving down risk to the lowest practicable level, rather than completing required paperwork. Companies, workers and communities will all benefit from a rigorous system like the safety case. I believe California could serve as a model for the nation by adopting this system."
According to the CSB draft report, the safety case regime requires companies to demonstrate to refinery industry regulators -- through a written "safety case report" -- how major hazards are to be controlled and risks reduced to "as low as reasonably practicable."
The CSB report notes that the safety case represents a fundamental change by shifting the responsibility for continuous reductions in major accident risks from regulators to the company.
Safety case reports generated by the company would be rigorously reviewed, audited and enforced by highly trained regulatory inspectors, whose technical training and experience are on par with the personnel employed by the companies they oversee, the draft report says.
The draft report is expected to be considered for formal adoption by the Chemical Safety Board at a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 15 at Richmond City Hall.
State Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, on Monday called the new report an "exciting moment."
"The CSB recommendations are profoundly positive, and we will be looking at them in both the budget process and in legislation next year," Hancock said. "Last year, we discovered that Great Britain has half as many refineries as California, and hundreds of inspectors, while we have seven inspectors who have responsibilities beyond just the refineries."
Hancock said she led a subcommittee effort in June to increase the number of state inspectors from seven to 26, later adopted by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, but she did not know how many of those new positions have been filled.
"Clearly, more inspectors is just a first step, and we'll look carefully at all the recommendations of the CSB," Hancock said.
Check back for updates to this story.
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726 or rrogers@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/SFBaynewsrogers.