Chevron Fined Nearly $1 Million for “Willful Violations” in Richmond Refinery Fire

Friday, February 01, 2013
Chevron refinery fire in Richmond (photo: Toni Hanna)

Chevron Corp. was handed 25 citations and fined $963,200 for “willful violations” at its Richmond oil refinery that resulted in a fire that belched gas and black smoke into the air last year.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) said the company had repeated warnings, many of them internally, about “pervasive violations,” but failed to correct the problems. Chevron’s own inspectors reported as far back as 2002 that the corroded pipe, which eventually gave way and triggered the emergency, was in need of repair.

The fine is the largest allowed by state law and more than double the previous largest fine, levied against Tosco for a 1999 Martinez refinery fire that killed four workers. Cal/OSHA Chief Ellen Widess said the violations occurred “before, during and after the fire.”

More than 15,000 people in the Bay Area headed for hospitals after smoke and potentially dangerous sulfuric acid and nitrogen dioxide fumes blew through the area last August 6. Tens of thousands of area residents were warned to stay in their homes.

The fire broke out after a refinery pipe began leaking. Instead of shutting down the unit, plant managers instructed workers to remove insulation, which, according to Cal/OSHA, caused the pipe to rupture and triggered a massive fire. Twenty workers barely escaped injury.

Twenty-three of the 25 violations were deemed “serious” by the state agency, including Chevron’s failure to institute emergency procedures to shut down the unit, the ordering of workers into the “hazardous incident zone” without proper equipment, and failing to recognize the “potential for catastrophic release of ignitable diesel fuel.” Cal/OSHA is overseen by the Department of Industrial Relations.

Since Chevron earned $244 billion in sales and other operating revenues in 2011, it should take the company a little more than two minutes to recoup its potential losses, assuming it actually pays the fine. Another 10 minutes would cover the $10 million Chevron says it has paid in compensation, mostly to area hospitals.

Chevron said it would appeal at least some of the violations.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Chevron Fined Nearly $1 Million for California Refinery Fire (by Jason Dearen, Associated Press)

Chevron Is Hit with Record Cal-OSHA Fine for Aug. 6 Refinery Fire (by Marc Lifsher, Los Angeles Times)

Chevron Fire: State Seeks Record Fine (by Jaxon Van Derbeken, San Francisco Chronicle)

$1 Million Fine for Chevron Not Enough (by Chip Johnson, San Francisco Chronicle)

Cal/OSHA Cites Chevron Nearly $1 Million for Richmond Refinery Fire (Cal/OSHA)

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