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Chevron response to refinery fire under criticism

  • Firefighting crews continue to pour water onto a unit after a fire at a Chevron refinery on Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012 in Richmond, Calif. The fire, which sent plumes of black smoke over the San Francisco Bay area, erupted Monday evening in the massive Chevron refinery about 10 miles (16 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco. It was out early Tuesday. (AP Photo/The Contra Costa Times, Aric Crabb)

RICHMOND — Investigators were looking at how a small, seemingly insignificant leak at one of the country's biggest oil refineries quickly unraveled into an intense fire that sent acrid black smoke into the sky and hundreds of people to hospitals with health complaints.

This latest disruption at Chevron's refinery in this city about 10 miles northwest of San Francisco — one of the West Coast's big refineries — was expected to affect gasoline prices in the region.

The Richmond refinery produces about 150,000 barrels of gasoline a day — or 16 percent of the region's daily gasoline consumption of 963,000 barrels, said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service.

With inventories of gasoline in the region already low compared with the rest of the country, pump prices on the West Coast will soon average more than $4 a gallon, Kloza said.

Chevron spokesman Lloyd Avram said he did not know when the refinery could be restarted and declined to comment on the impact the shutdown might have on the gasoline market.


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