How Chevron Richmond, California Refinery Fire Happened, As Shown In New CSB Video

If you live downwind of Chevron’s Richmond refinery, you don’t need to be reminded of what happened there last Aug. 6: A huge fire started in a crude-oil processing unit at the facility, sending an immense plume of thick black smoke over adjacent neighborhoods and much of western Contra Costa County.

In what seems like a miracle, no one in the refinery died when a fireball erupted around the affected processing unit. But the fire sent thousands of local residents to hospitals, mostly with respiratory complaints.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board issued a draft interim report last week detailing its findings on the accident It’s a 68-page document that’s filled with technical descriptions and jargon: “The incident occurred from the piping referred to as the “4-sidecut” stream, one of several process streams exiting the C-1100 Crude Unit Atmospheric Column.” Passages like that, replete with references to industry standards and diagrams and charts in the report, might prove impenetrable to many readers.

But the board also produced something that’s much more accessible to the public: an animated re-creation of the event. High-end Hollywood production values? No. A chilling sequence of events? Yes. The animation graphically lays out the consequences of the company’s repeated delays in upgrading corrosion-prone steel components in this part of its refining process. And — wait till you get to the part showing the firefighter poking a leaking pipe with a steel pike — the video also makes clear that the personnel sent to figure out what to do about the leak had very little idea of the danger they faced.

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