refinery fireA seven-member investigative team from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) is en route to the scene of an explosion and fire that occurred Monday at the Chevron Refinery in Richmond, CA.                                   

They’ll be trying to figure out how what Chevron officials described as a small leak resulted in a large fire that produced black smoke and sent hundreds of area residents to hospitals with complaints of breathing difficulties. Four workers sustained minor injuries. Thousands of local residents were ordered to shelter in place. An immediate consequence of the fire is already apparent; gas prices along the west coast and elsewhere have risen dramatically due to the disruption in supply.

CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso said, “CSB investigations examine a wide range of safety issues such as effective process safety management and mechanical integrity. Our mission is to improve the safety of workers and the public.”

Although California law requires Chevron to immediately notify the public of any gas leak, fire or oil spill, the company said it did not consider the leak – which began on Monday afternoon – a threat to public safety. According to Chevron, the explosion and fire involved the release of vapor that found an ignition source.

Company officials were booed and shouted at during a community meeting last night in Richmond attended by hundreds of people.

Erika Monterroza, a spokeswoman for California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal/OSHA, said; "Investigators have notified us that Chevron's emergency response was excellent.”