Scene from U.S. Chemical Safety Board Animation of August 2012 Chevron refinery fire: Here, a firefighter uses a steel pike to try to dislodge insulation from a leaking pipe in the crude-processing unit that was soon to catch fire. See full animation below.
Scene from U.S. Chemical Safety Board Animation of August 2012 Chevron refinery fire: Here, a firefighter uses a steel pike to try to dislodge insulation from a leaking pipe in the crude-processing unit that was soon to catch fire. See full animation below.

If you live downwind of Chevron’s Richmond refinery, you don’t need to be reminded of what happened there last Aug. 6: A huge fire started in a crude-oil processing unit at the facility, sending an immense plume of thick black smoke over adjacent neighborhoods and much of western Contra Costa County.

In what seems like a miracle, no one in the refinery died when a fireball erupted around the affected processing unit. But the fire sent thousands of local residents to hospitals, mostly with respiratory complaints.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board issued a draft interim report last week detailing its findings on the accident It’s a 68-page document that’s filled with technical descriptions and jargon: “The incident occurred from the piping referred to as the “4-sidecut” stream, one of several process streams exiting the C-1100 Crude Unit Atmospheric Column.” Passages like that, replete with references to industry standards and diagrams and charts in the report, might prove impenetrable to many readers.

But the board also produced something that’s much more accessible to the public: an animated re-creation of the event. High-end Hollywood production values? No. A chilling sequence of events? Yes. The animation graphically lays out the consequences of the company’s repeated delays in upgrading corrosion-prone steel components in this part of its refining process. And — wait till you get to the part showing the firefighter poking a leaking pipe with a steel pike — the video also makes clear that the personnel sent to figure out what to do about the leak had very little idea of the danger they faced.

Author

Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke is a blogger, reporter and editor for KQED News, responsible for online breaking news coverage of topics ranging from California water issues to the Bay Area's transportation challenges. In a newsroom career that began in Chicago in 1972, Dan has worked as a city and foreign/national editor for The San Francisco Examiner, editor at Wired News, deputy editor at Wired magazine, managing editor at TechTV as well as for several Web startups.

Since joining KQED in 2007, Dan has reported, edited and produced both radio and online features and breaking news pieces. He has shared in two Society of Professional Journalists Norcal Excellence in Journalism awards — for his 2012 reporting on a KQED Science series on water and power in California, and in 2014, for KQED's comprehensive reporting on the south Napa earthquake.

In addition to his 44 years of on-the-job education, Dan is a lifelong student of history and is still pursuing an undergraduate degree.

Email Dan at: dbrekke@kqed.org

Twitter: twitter.com/danbrekke
Facebook: www.facebook.com/danbrekke
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/danbrekke

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor