Federal investigators released the lab report Wednesday that confirmed suspicions that a Chevron firefighter’s pike poked an already leaking oil pipe at the company’s refinery in Richmond. The pipe was punctured before the line caught fire in August.

The damage made by the pike have worsened the chemical-vapor leak from the line and contributed to the scope of the ongoing fire. This was according to the federal investigators. The fire destroyed part of the refinery and gave out a cloud of vapor and smoke thousands of feet into the air over Richmond and surrounding areas. The incident made 15,000 people to visit hospitals complaining of respiratory and other problems. Chevron said it hopes to repair the refinery back into full operation by March.

The metallurgical analysis made by Anamet Inc. of Hayward was released by the US Chemical Safety Board, which is the agency investigating the fire. The agency’s chairman, Rafael Moure-Eraso, said that the findings should serve as a warning to all refiners to test their corrosion mechanisms and use the safest possible materials of construction to avoid failures.

The Anamet lab found that high temperature, sulfur-heavy crude oil had corroded 80 percent of the 8 inch carbon steel pipe that Chevron installed in tis crude-oil unit in 1976. Chevron has already said that the pipe was already corroded and that managers opted to leave it in place after an inspection nine months before the incident.

The corrosion made the pipe vulnerable to damage when Chevron Firefighters utilized pikes to try to remove insulation around the line in order to reach the source of the leak. The lab report stated that the hole was caused by an inward deformation inside the pipe, which the investigators believe was made by a pike.

The lab’s findings indicate that the pipes were weak all over the refinery because they were low in vital protective silicon that inhibits corrosion in carbon steel pipe.

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