Chevron Refinery Fire Pushes California Gasoline Prices Higher

A fire at Chevron Corp.’s Richmond oil refinery in California pushed gasoline prices higher today as it disrupted fuel output at the state’s third-largest crude-processing plant.

Chevron’s 240,000-barrel-a-day refinery shut its only crude unit after the fire yesterday, Heather Kulp, a Richmond-based spokeswoman for Chevron, said today. The fire is out, she said, and the plant is maintaining a small controlled burn at the crude unit to relieve pressure. Other units are operating at unknown levels, Kulp said.

California-blend gasoline, or Carbob, in San Francisco gained 23 cents to a premium of 28.5 cents a gallon against futures traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange at 12:42 p.m. East Coast time, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s the highest level for Carbob in the Bay Area since May 29 and the largest single-day increase since Bloomberg began compiling spot prices in November 2007.

“These increases will be passed along to retail pumps at California and gas stations as far north as Seattle,” Bob van der Valk, a petroleum industry analyst in Terry, Montana, said in an e-mail. He said BP Plc’s Cherry Point refinery in Washington took four months to reach full operation after a fire in February.

No Estimate

Kulp said the refinery doesn’t have a restart estimate for the No. 4 crude unit, which has a daily throughput capacity of 257,200 barrels a day, according to an Aug. 11, 2011, document on file with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

Other process units at the refinery include a 64,800-barrel-a-day diesel hydrotreater, a 96,000-barrel-a-day jet hydrotreater, a 57,600-barrel-a-day naphtha hydrotreater, a 90,000-barrel-a-day fluid catalytic cracker plant and a 60,900-barrel-a-day isocracker, according to the document.

A vapor leak of hydrocarbons that began in the crude unit at about 4:15 p.m. local time yesterday increased and ignited at 6:30 p.m., Kulp said in an interview on KQED radio.

Hundreds of people have sought medical treatment for “minor complaints” since the blaze broke out, Randy Sawyer, the director of Contra Costa County’s hazardous materials division, said by telephone from Martinez, California.

All employees at the refinery have been accounted for, and three employees were treated on site for minor injuries, Brent Tippen, a San Ramon, California-based Chevron spokesman, said in a phone interview today.

Evacuation Report

The plant reported an evacuation after the fire broke out, a filing with the California Emergency Management Agency shows.

The Contra Costa County health-services department issued a shelter-in-place advisory for Richmond, North Richmond and San Pablo because of the fire. The advisory was lifted late yesterday.

The Richmond plant is about 110 years old, according to Chevron’s website. Built on a peninsula of low hills rising from San Francisco Bay, the refinery became the West Coast’s largest and most advanced upon its completion in 1902. The refinery produces gasoline, jet fuel, diesel, lubricants and other oil products, according to the company’s website.

Chevron shut a crude unit at Richmond on Nov. 14 after vacuum residuum, made up of heavy hydrocarbons, leaked from a bleeder on a filter and “auto ignited,” Chevron said in a filing to county regulators following that incident. The unit was returned to service later that same month, two people with direct knowledge of the plant’s operations said Nov. 29. A crude unit at the refinery also caught fire in January 2007.

The county’s hazardous materials division was at the refinery testing air quality after yesterday’s fire, according to a notice from the county health department. The plant released sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, hydrogen oxide, sulfuric acid and nitrogen dioxide because of the fire, the state filing shows.

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