Officials investigating last year's Chevron refinery fire were suggesting Friday that the company's own first responders might have made the problem worse.
The fire that incinerated and crippled the Chevron refinery last August began with a tiny, but visible leak that looked like steam.
Initial reports from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board indicate that the pipe was punctured from the outside.
The Chemical Safety Board said it thinks that the Chevron Fire Department, in trying to get the insulation off the pipe using a tool called a Halligan bar, may have actually punctured the pipe making the leak even worse.
That's because the pipe, seriously corroded by sulfur in the crude oil, was seriously weakened and brittle.
KTVU spoke on the phone Friday with Richard Kuprewicz, a refinery consultant who's operated refineries and dealt with emergencies, including leaks and fires.
"Can you isolate the leak either by closing valves nearby, which is maybe difficult on a process unit," he said. "Or, do you try to either clamp it or plug it if the pressure will allow?"
In other words, once first responders get through the pipe's wrappings and down to bare metal, either pound a steel plug into the hole, or wrap it with a pressure clamp.
"In trying to either plug or clamp the hole, you could actually make the hole much bigger," Kuprewicz said. "In other words, the pipe starts to fail, in which case you're now really losing control."
Within minutes, huge vapor cloud hundreds of feet high engulfed the crude oil processing unit, caught fire, crippled the refinery and sent 15,000 neighbors to the hospital.
The government said even without the damage from the Haligan bar there still would have been some kind of fire, but perhaps not as serious.
Chevron said it was cooperating with all investigations.
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