An independent investigation described the Chevron Richmond Refinery’s response to the 2021 spill in San Francisco Bay as a thorough effort to determine the root cause and to implement steps to prevent future incidents.
At a public hearing in Richmond July 17, AcuTech, a Virginia-based engineering firm contracted by Contra Costa County, presented results of its probe into the spill of 773 gallons of a diesel-water mixture into the Bay south of the Richmond Long Wharf on Feb. 9, 2021.
No injuries to wildlife or environmental damage occurred as a result of the incident, per examinations of the site by Chevron and state and federal agencies. The diesel-water mixture involved was not oil, but rather a product processed from oil that is lighter and evaporates quickly, according to Chevron.
After the incident, Contra Costa County established an oversight committee consisting of city and county officials, local residents, United Steelworkers, Chevron and the Contra Costa Health Hazardous Materials Commission. That oversight committee selected AcuTech to investigate the incident, make determinations and develop a draft report, which is now available for public review and comment through Aug. 28.
AcuTech’s investigation confirmed Chevron’s determination that the spill was caused by a corroded pipeline, and that the company’s process for inspecting pipelines in its wharf operations were not as robust as they are within the Refinery. Since the incident, the pipeline has been put out of service and Chevron has implemented a robust system of trainings and inspections with the aim of preventing future incidents, according to AcuTech’s report.
As part of the response, Chevron installed supplemental technology to test pipeline integrity, called Saturated Low Frequency Eddy Current (SLOFEC). SLOFEC inspections will occur once every three years on the bottom 180 degrees of pipelines in use, while an ultrasonic thickness inspection will occur every three years on the remainder of the lines, according to AcuTech’s report.
The company’s inspections process also includes 21 new monitoring locations, and Chevron further augmented the process in which personnel monitors pipelines in the wharf, analyzes pipeline integrity data, and responds to incidents with new technologies and mandated trainings, according to the report.
AcuTech found Chevron’s overall response to the spill to be “complete in capturing direct causes, contributing factors and providing a complete timeline of events,” in compliance with city and county industrial safety ordinances.
“Chevron showed through interviews and actions that they took the incident very seriously,” said Alison Ballon, principal engineer at AcuTech. “Management was engaged throughout the process in understanding the root causes, and seeing to the resolution of those corrective actions.”
Environmental groups expressed skepticism over the veracity of AcuTech’s report, in part because Chevron held a seat on the oversight committee. The groups additionally criticized Chevron for taking roughly an hour to report the spill to authorities. The AcuTech investigation found that Chevron “made reasonable efforts to meet the [Contra Costa Health] requirements while still maintaining good emergency response practices of containing a leak to reduce environmental consequences.”
Linsi Crain, public and government affairs manager at Chevron Richmond, made it clear at the July 17 public hearing that the damaged line is no longer in service. She encouraged residents to reach out with questions and concerns at [email protected].
“I live here in Richmond, and am looking forward to raising my family in Richmond,” said Crain. “We also have hundreds of employees who live here. We care about our safety and environmental protection here in Richmond.”
Following the 45-day public comment period on AcuTech’s findings, the report (view it in full here) will be finalized to incorporate the comments and then presented to the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors and the Richmond City Council.