Tuesday August 7, 2012
Big fire hits California refinery; residents ordered indoors
RICHMOND/HOUSTON: A fire struck the core of Chevron Corp's 245,000 barrel per day (bpd) Richmond, California, refinery on Monday evening, spewing large flames and a column of smoke into the air and prompting authorities to order nearby residents indoors.
The fire hit a crude distillation unit at plant which accounts for one-eighth of the state's refining capacity. A lasting outage there could cause a swift rise in gasoline prices across the West Coast, a region that is isolated from other markets.
Chevron spokesman Walt Gill told local television that the fire had started in the No. 4 crude unit at 6:15 p.m. local time (2:15 a.m. British time), and it was not known when it might be extinguished. The size of the No. 4 unit was not immediately clear.
We are "very disappointed that this happened, and apologize that we are inconveniencing our neighbours," he said.
Refinery sources said all workers at the plant had been accounted for.
KTVU-TV reported the blaze at the refinery was sending a plume of black smoke into the air over the San Francisco Bay-area plant. A Reuters reporter who lives nearby said he heard some loud bangs and a siren, but a Chevron spokesman denied reports of an explosion.
Any prolonged disruption in production could have a significant impact on the regional fuel markets, particularly gasoline, due to the difficulty in making California's super-clean specifications and the fact that the West Coast region has few immediate alternative supply sources in case of an outage.
The crude distillation unit (CDU) is at the heart of the refining process, converting the crude oil coming into a refinery into intermediate feedstock for all other units. It can take months to repair a CDU at a large plant, during which time operations are typically severely limited.
Sulphuric acid and nitrogen dioxide were released during the incident, according to a filing with the California Emergency Management Agency.-Reuters