RICHMOND (CBS SF) — Chevron has paid about $10 million to cover medical expenses and other claims in the wake of the fire at its Richmond refinery on Aug. 6 and is updating its equipment and safety procedures to prevent a similar incident, representatives from the oil company said Tuesday.
Most of those payouts went to local hospitals to cover medical exams and treatment received by residents sickened by toxin-filled smoke that spread for miles after the fire, according to a letter Chevron sent to the Contra Costa County Hazardous Materials Program Monday in an update to its internal investigation of the fire.
At least 15,000 people sought medical treatment due to health issues related to the fire, and 23,900 claims had been filed as of last week to cover costs incurred due to the blaze, according to the letter.
In addition to the payouts, the oil giant is working to take “corrective actions” to tighten inspection, safety and management oversight protocol at the local refinery, Chevron spokesman Sean Comey said in an email.
Part of that work includes an inspection of the types of low-Silicon pipes that ruptured and leaked on Aug. 6, sparking an explosion and fire at the refinery’s crude oil unit.
According to Chevron’s latest report, the part of the pipe that broke that day had low silicon content and was susceptible to thinning when exposed to high-temperature sulfidation. The corroded pipe segment that eventually broke was not “readily detected by existing corrosion monitoring locations,” the report reads.
Company representatives say Chevron is inspecting any piping that could be susceptible to corrosion under the same conditions and to replace them if needed before reopening the crude oil unit.
According to its report, Chevron is also boosting training and competency requirements for the refinery’s leaders, inspectors and engineers and strengthening its response to leaks, including protocol dictating whether workers should shut down refinery equipment or continue operating after a leak.
When asked if these improvements show that the oil unit should have been shut down sooner once a leak was detected on Aug. 6, Comey responded in an email, “We’re enhancing leak response protocols to ensure appropriate process safety information is considered when evaluating leaks. We are also reinforcing the authority that everyone has to issue immediate stop work authority and initiate a shutdown if conditions warrant.”
In addition to individual claims, two lawsuits filed against Chevron by Bay Area civil rights attorney John Burris and Texas-based attorney Tony Buzbee are headed to state court.
The suits claim that Chevron was negligent in its handling of maintenance leading up to the fire and could have avoided the fire if they had used better safety measures and had responded promptly after a leak was discovered.
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board and the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health are conducting their own investigations into the refinery fire and are set to release new findings in the coming weeks.
Andres Soto, a lifetime Richmond resident and an organizer with environmental justice organization Communities for a Better Environment, said he believes those agencies’ independent investigations into the fire will be revelatory.
“I think the (investigations) will show that the culture within the refinery on the part of Chevron management has been one to run the refinery to the point of failure, without even following their own guidelines about preventative maintenance and corrosion,” he said.
Soto called the $10 million in payouts a “drop in the bucket compared to the profits Chevron makes on a quarterly basis.”
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