A badly worn pipe may have led to the October explosion at Texaco's Wilmington refinery that rocked southern Los Angeles County, shattered windows and caused hundreds of people to evacuate their homes, Los Angeles fire officials said.
In a preliminary report partially based on information supplied by Texaco, fire officials say the remains of a pipe that broke, and may have emitted a gas cloud that exploded, had a wall thickness of one-eighth inch; it should have been five-eighths of an inch.
The report did not specify what kind of vapor the pipe carried.
The report does not conclude what caused the blast, and investigators said additional stress and other tests on the pipe still must be conducted.
According to the report, two explosions in rapid succession blasted through the refinery near a hydrogen processing unit, which is used in the manufacture of gasoline and diesel fuel.
Damage from the first explosion near the hydrogen-processing unit "may have caused a second failure," triggering the second blast, the report said.
Texaco officials declined to comment on the report, including the accuracy of how fire officials characterized the company's information regarding the worn pipe.
Fred Schlicher, a spokesman for the oil company, said Texaco had hoped to have been allowed to finish its investigation of the explosion before any reports were released to the public.
"We're just not going to comment on anything at this point," Schlicher said. "This Los Angeles Fire Department investigation report is a preliminary report. Texaco's investigation is continuing, as are many other agencies' (inquiries), and it would be premature to comment on the accuracy of any preliminary report at this time.
"We're just not going to address the situation until we get the investigation completed," he said. "We would prefer that everybody release their reports at the same time."
Texaco's investigation should be completed shortly, Schlicher said, and the company will present its findings in an open forum.
Also investigating the explosion are the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and its state counterpart, Cal-OSHA. Responding to questions about inspection procedures at the refinery, Schlicher issued a statement saying that Texaco has a separate inspection and test department of nine full-time employees, who are responsible for the inspection and testing program.
Schlicher did not say whether Texaco's investigation indicated that adequate inspections had taken place.
The fire from the explosion lit up the night sky and burned for 36 hours, requiring 200 firefighters to bring it under control.
No one was killed, but 16 workers were injured. About 500 people living within a mile of the plant were evacuated to shelters until dawn.