Chevron Refinery Suffers Third Power Outage in Two Months, With Another Round of Flaring

The Chevron oil refinery in Richmond.  (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)

A power outage Wednesday morning at Chevron's Richmond refinery caused several processing units to shut down, prompting the facility to send gas through its flares.

The incident marked at least the third time the refinery has suffered an electricity problem since mid-January.

The company notified state and Contra Costa County officials shortly after 2 a.m. that it was experiencing "ongoing flaring" because of the outage and that it had a team of experts working to address the issue.

Four hours later, Chevron posted a tweet telling nearby residents about the incident, explaining that a Level 1 Community Warning System alert was sent out and that "no environmental or public health impacts are anticipated."

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Flaring is used to relieve pressure inside refinery process units during facility malfunctions.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District launched an investigation into Wednesday's incident, according to agency spokeswoman Kristine Roselius.

It's unclear what chemicals were released during the flaring. An overnight storm that brought wind and rain to the area may have reduced the spread of any toxic chemicals, according to Maria Duazo, a hazardous materials specialist at the Contra Costa County Hazardous Materials Program.

The outage was not connected to infrastructure run by PG&E, according to utility spokeswoman Tamar Sarkissian.

The refinery also experienced a "power dip" on Feb. 2 that caused some units to go down, resulting in a round of flaring.

A power outage at the refinery on Jan. 17 also led to flaring, according to county officials and air regulators.

That electricity failure caused some of their process units to "wobble", according to Randy Sawyer, the county's chief environmental health and hazardous materials officer. In that incident, the units "lost some cooling" and had to be shut down, Sawyer said.

Braden Reddall, a Chevron spokesman, did not answer questions about what caused Wednesday's outage and whether the company is doing something to address power issues at the refinery.

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