Fire blazes at California refinery
Houston, August 7, 2012
A massive fire struck at the core of Chevron Corp's large Richmond, California, refinery on Monday, spewing flames and a column of smoke into the air.
Nearby residents were ordered indoors after the fire hit the sole crude unit at the 245,000 barrel per day (bpd) plant, which accounts for one-eighth of the state's refining capacity.
Authorities said the fire was still blazing more than three hours after it erupted at the refinery in a densely populated industrial suburb of San Francisco. Smoke could be seen billowing over the Bay Area and four train stations were shut.
Chevron said the fire had started in the No. 4 crude unit, the only one at the plant, at 6:15 p.m. shortly after a leak was discovered. As the leak grew, workers were evacuated, plant manager Nigel Hearn told journalists at the site. He said some units were still operating, but gave no details.
It was not immediately clear when the fire would be put out and the extent of damage to the plant was not known.
Crude distillation units (CDUs) break down oil into feedstock for other units in a refinery. It can take months to repair a CDU at a large plant, during which operations are typically severely limited.
Any lengthy disruption in production could affect the supply of fuel in the West Coast, particularly gasoline, due to the difficulty in meeting California's super-clean specifications. The region also has few immediate alternative supply sources.
Residents of Richmond were advised to "shelter in place", an order often given during refinery accidents to shield against possible exposure to toxic chemicals or smoke. Sulfuric acid and nitrogen dioxide were released during the incident, according to a filing with the California Emergency Management Agency.
The refinery, the third largest in California and among the oldest in the country, is key to the economy of Richmond, a declining industrial city. But it has stirred controversy among local residents concerned about the environmental impacts and local politicians often seeking more tax revenues. - Reuters
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