Chevron’s Richmond Refinery Piped around Pollution Monitors

Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Smoke rises above Richmond after fire broke out at Chevron oil refinery (photo: Reuters)

The Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, crippled since August because of a fire, has been under federal criminal investigation since a discovery in 2009 by inspectors that a 100-foot pipe detoured gas around pollution monitors for four years and burned it off elsewhere.

The San Francisco Chronicle, which learned of the investigation while searching for documents related to the fire, said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began its investigation in early 2012 after inspectors for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (AQMD) ordered the pipe be removed.

Chevron says it was a misunderstanding.

“We did not recognize the need for a meter on this line and we advised (the air district) of this issue three years ago and remedied it then,” refinery General Manager Nigel Hearne told a news conference.

The AQMD started its own investigation of Chevron a year before the feds and settled with the company in August 2011. Chevron paid $170,000 in fines for multiple violations―the same month its five-year agency permit at Richmond was renewed.

Federal investigators are trying to determine, among other things, if Chevron violated a 2005 court order that imposed pollutant restrictions at the refinery. Chevron had agreed to limit flaring—burning off gas—and monitor how much gas enters the air. The court order was issued after the EPA sued Chevron for its alleged polluting ways.   

Meanwhile, investigation of the August 6 refinery fire that saw 15,000 people head for the hospital after smoke blew through the area, continues. The 5-foot length of pipe that ruptured, leaking flammable hydrocarbon vapor before igniting, was found to have been abnormally thin. Further study indicated that the pipe lacked a key ingredient to protect it from just the kind of corrosion that occurs in high-temperature crude-oil pipes.

Chevron said it inspected lots of pipe nearby, and found similar problems, but did not check that pipe.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Criminal Investigation at Chevron Refinery (by Jaxon Van Derbeken, San Francisco Chronicle)

Chevron Offers Details on Pipe Failure that Sparked August Fire at Richmond Refinery (by Robert Rogers, Contra Costa Times)

Chevron Says Pipe Low on Key Protectant (by Jaxon Van Derbeken, San Francisco Chronicle)

Chevron Says Richmond Repair Time Unknown (by Braden Reddall, Reuters)

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