The Chevron refinery fire in Richmond in August 2012 sent smoke across the Bay Area. (Stephen Schiller/Flickr)
The Chevron refinery fire in Richmond in August 2012 sent smoke across the Bay Area. (Stephen Schiller/Flickr)

In the wake of the Chevron refinery fire in Richmond last year, which sent thousands of local residents to the hospital, a federal report today recommended big changes to how California oversees its oil refineries.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board report calls for a replacement of “the current patchwork of largely reactive and activity-based regulations” with a more rigorous safety case system that regulates based on performance. Similar systems have been adopted in the U.K., Norway and Australia.

The draft report, which can be read in its entirety below, will be available for public comment until Jan. 3.

KQED’s Cy Musiker spoke with State Senator Loni Hancock, who represents Richmond and has followed the issue since the 2012 fire. Hancock said the report was an important step in the right direction, because it, in no uncertain terms, laid out the problems with the current regulatory system.

“It confirms what previous reports have told us that California safety requirements and inspections are not adequate,” said Hancock.

She also criticized the state for allowing Chevron to ignore its own workers’ recommendations, run the refinery “to failure” until there was an explosion and then pay “a meaningless small fine that is just really the cost of doing business.”

Musiker also spoke with refinery and pipeline safety expert Richard Kuprewicz, who said the changes recommended could work. But, for them to it’s important that state regulators have “real clout,” he said – something they have not had to date.  There are only about 13 regulators in the whole state right now, Hancock noted

Chevron did respond to the report, noting the number of steps they’ve already taken to address the failing machinery at the Richmond refinery. “For more than 100 years, safety has been at the core of everything we do,” the statement said.

Chevron Regulatory Report Draft for Public Comment


Kelly O'Mara

Kelly O'Mara is a writer and reporter in the San Francisco Bay Area. She writes about food, health, sports, travel, business and California news. Her work has appeared on KQED, online for Outside Magazine, epsnW, VICE and in Competitor Magazine, among others. Follow Kelly on Twitter @kellydomara.

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