It looks like a firefighter's sharp-pointed pike tool punctured an already leaking oil pipe during last August's accident and fire at the Richmond Chevron plant, causing the subsequent blaze and toxic vapor leak to get much worse. A new metallurgical analysis just released by U.S. Chemical Safety Board, which is investigating the August 6 accident and fire, shows that the 36-year-old pipe was heavily corroded, and was easily punctured by the firefighter's tool.

Per the Chron:

The Hayward lab found that high-temperature, sulfur-heavy crude oil had eaten away 80 percent of the 8-inch carbon steel pipe, which Chevron installed in its crude-oil unit 1976.

Chevron has already conceded that the pipe was corroded and that managers opted to leave it in place after an inspection nine months before the fire.

The corrosion made the pipe especially vulnerable to damage when Chevron firefighters used pikes to try to remove insulation from around the line the afternoon of Aug. 6 to reach the source of a leak, officials say.

The new report only confirms what Cal/OSHA already found in an early investigation: That Chevron knew the pipes need replacing, and their own pipe inspectors had recommended they be replaced in 2002, ten years before the accident.

Chevron has said that their "strong focus" now is preventing any future failures. Too late.


All previous Chevron refinery fire coverage on SFist.