Thursday, April 26, 2018

Chevron officials say loud noise in Point was result of emergency steam release

   POINT RICHMOND - A team of Chevron officials confirmed again for the Point Richmond Neighborhood Council Wednesday night that the loud, screeching sound that alarmed hundreds of Point Richmond residents the night of March 29 was the result of only steam escaping from a pressure relief valve, not any refinery flaring.
     The escaping steam was under 500 pounds per square inch of pressure and had to go through a small diameter space, resulting in the screeching noise that prompted hundreds of phone calls to Chevron, police and Bay Area air quality officials.
     "We did not live up to our own expectations that night," Brian Hubinger, a Chevon representative told the PRNC. (For a KQED story about the incident published March 30, click here STEAM.)
(L-R) Claudia Graham, Winnie Kuo and Brian Hubinger of Chevron
     The technical details of what happened were outlined for the group by Winnie Kuo, a process engineer at the Richmond facility.
     Kuo said the steam is used in a turbine system that generates as much as 20 megawatts of electricity. Normal operating pressure is about 400 pounds per square inch. At 500 psi, Kuo said, the safety valve is designed to kick in, allowing the excess pressure to vent into the air.
     The piece of equipment blamed for the noise was installed in 2005 and is back in operation,  Claudia Graham, Chevron's utilities operations manager told the audience.
     "The manufacturer is investigating," she said.
     Local residents complained that the shrieking sound March 29 lasted as long as two hours, though Hubinger said he believe he actual incident time frame was shorter.
     Whatever the time frame, several residents clearly expressed their concerns over how the incident was handled.
     "You scared the crap out of a lot of people in the community," Point Richmond resident Bill Nadal said.
     The PRNC and the Chevron representatives also discussed the need for a better alert system to process more calls more quickly.
     In a normal week, Chevron dispatchers might receive just one or two complaint calls, Hubinger said.
     "That night we got about 100 in the first half-hour."

Michael J. Fitzgerald

The video below was taken the night of the incident by a local resident