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  Fire Anniversary Media Coverage of Chevron Events
August 6, 2013

See from Michael Bukay a Video of Human Energy at the Chevron Protest Rally Last Saturday. During the nonviolent demonstration Michael wandered through the crowd and captured some of the Human Energy of the participants. Check out the video at http://youtu.be/ETejwrGw9CE.
A look at changes in year since Chevron refinery fire
Public officials have praise for changes, but neighbors of Chevron feel vulnerable
Ian C. Bates, The Chronicle
Tarnel Abbott (left) and Paul Kilkenny protest against Chevron in Richmond.
By Demian Bulwa
August 6, 2013
David Gray stood at the door of his apartment and recalled the evening, one year ago, when a corroded pipe burst at the Chevron refinery in Richmond a few hundred yards away, igniting a fireball that sent clouds of smoke through the region.
The fire prompted him and 15,000 others to go to the hospital to complain of breathing problems. It exposed weaknesses in how the refinery was run and regulated, and it laid bare the distrust that many Richmond residents have for their city's prime economic engine.
With attention and pressure came a whirlwind of activity. Local and state leaders moved to rein in the industry with tighter laws and tougher inspections. Pollution regulators promised to provide better data about toxic substances spewed into the air.
And, on Monday, Chevron pleaded no contest to six misdemeanor criminal charges arising from the fire - accepting a plea deal with county and state prosecutors that included a $2 million penalty and stepped-up oversight.
But as Tuesday's anniversary of the fire approached - and the regulatory efforts slowly took shape through working groups and task forces - some who live near the refinery said they were not convinced the disaster would bring lasting change.
"Being here on the front lines, I feel vulnerable," said Gray, 61, a retired computer builder who is one of thousands of people suing Chevron over the blaze. He said he'd like to move, but can't afford it. "The bottom line is, the money Chevron has to pay for this is not enough of an incentive. Money talks."
Wake-up call
Others are more optimistic, including local, state and federal officials who say the fire in a crude oil processing unit brought a level of attention to refinery safety that has rarely been seen in the Bay Area, where five such plants operate in Contra Costa and Solano counties.
They say the response to the fire has been vigorous - and could ripple through the industry.
Rafael Moure-Eraso, the chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, said in an interview Monday that he saw "a constellation of interest and goodwill to address this problem" that extended from Richmond residents to Sacramento lawmakers. He wants the effort directed at Chevron to become a "blueprint for the country."
Ian C. Bates, The Chronicle
Residents in a neighborhood near the Chevron refinery in Richmond are wary that the company hasn't made enough changes.
"Incidents like last summer's fire are definitely a wake-up call," said Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley. "I feel like we're finally shoring up our ability to enforce regulations that will create a culture of safety."
Skinner pointed to a recent budget change pushed by her and Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley. It boosted funding for inspectors overseeing 15 refineries and 1,600 other hazardous facilities for Cal/OSHA, the workplace safety regulator. The inspectors, when hired, will increase the number working for the state to 26 from seven.
Also coming soon is a Contra Costa County audit of the refinery. A decade has passed since the county ordered up such a review at any hazardous-materials plant.
"We want to find out what corrections need to be made in the safety culture at the refinery," said John Gioia, a county supervisor from Richmond, "because clearly there are issues."
Scathing reports
Investigations by Cal/OSHA and the Chemical Safety Board found the fire never should have happened. The state agency issued 25 citations against Chevron and sought its biggest regulatory fine ever - $963,000. The company is appealing.
The probes found that Chevron failed to follow its own standards for fighting corrosion endemic to sulfur-laden crude oil.
Ian C. Bates, The Chronicle
David Gray, who lives a few hundred yards from the refinery, says he feels vulnerable and would like to move, but he can't.
The pipe that burst - which had lost 90 percent of its wall thickness, leaving it far thinner than a dime - had been left in place for years despite internal recommendations to replace it, investigators said.
When it started leaking, managers didn't shut it down but had workers remove the pipe's insulation, contributing to the rupture. Nineteen workers had to scramble to safety.
The Chemical Safety Board said weak state oversight left Chevron free to monitor rather than eliminate corrosion risks. It made 20 initial recommendations to the company and regulators - none of which has yet been verified as completed.
Last month, a state working group convened by Gov. Jerry Brown released its own report recommending stricter oversight of refineries.
Greg Karras, a senior scientist with the advocacy group Communities for a Better Environment, said the level of activity was encouraging, as was the focus on the danger of high-sulfur crude oil in aging refineries. But he believes the risk of another accident in Richmond remains high.
"What we have seen so far is mostly words from government and the company, and not deeds," Karras said. "In that sense, it's what I have seen for decades. By the time people have all the facts and know what to do, the government's resolve to do something wanes - or withers under pressure from the company."
Changes promised
A spokeswoman for Chevron, Melissa Ritchie, said the company was "committed to learning from this incident." She said Chevron was inspecting all pipes at the Richmond refinery that may be vulnerable because of corrosion from high-sulfur crude oil.
"We have inspected over 16,000 individual piping components and are replacing piping components as necessary," Ritchie said. "We have implemented and applied a new protocol for evaluating leaks and shutting down equipment."
Cal/OSHA had taken issue with Chevron repairing leaks with clamps that were supposed to be temporary but sometimes remained in place for years.
Ritchie said using "leak seals" was a safe and common practice at refineries, and that six of the nine leaks cited by investigators had been repaired permanently. The other three, she said, will be addressed the next time the equipment to which they are attached is taken out of service for repairs.
So far, Ritchie said, Chevron has paid more than $10 million to residents who got sick, hospitals who treated them and government agencies that responded to the blaze. That's on top of the $2 million that the company agreed to pay Monday in fines and restitution.
Flurry of moves
Like the smoke from the fire, the response has spread in so many directions that residents and lawmakers have trouble keeping track.
In the state Legislature, several bills inspired by the fire are pending. One would increase - from $25,000 to $100,000 - the maximum fine for a one-day pollution event. Another would require refineries to notify state regulators when they take equipment offline for repairs. A third would give Cal/OSHA more power to order a company to fix problems, even if they appeal the state's findings.
Then there are lawsuits, including one that Richmond filed Friday against Chevron. Attorney John Burris said he had filed suits on behalf of 5,000 of his 12,000 clients - a number that led him to open a satellite office in Richmond with 15 staffers.
On the county level, officials replaced a telephone-alert firm that took more than three hours to contact 18,000 people near the refinery and advise them to shelter in place after the fire broke out. The county, though, has yet to test the new system to see if it will perform better.
One major area of criticism after the fire was a lack of monitors around the refinery that could measure air quality in real time, including the particulate matter that health officials believe made people sick.
What's in the air?
Chevron installed monitors at the refinery fence line in April as part of a 2010 agreement with Richmond, Ritchie said. The company has also bought equipment for three nearby neighborhoods, she said, but continues to work with the city to find locations to set it up.
Officials at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District said they installed a monitor in December in San Pablo, less than 2 miles from the refinery, that gives hourly readings of fine particulates. Before the fire, the nearest such monitors were in Oakland, San Rafael and Concord.
In a move being watched outside the Bay Area, the district is also working with a consultant to beef up everyday monitoring around the five Bay Area refineries. The plan, officials said, is for the agency to adopt regulations next year in which refineries would have to submit a plan for tracking emissions - and then reduce the discharges if they go up.
"Finally, the district is doing what it should have done 20 years ago," said Denny Larson, executive director of Global Community Monitor, an environmental watchdog group in Richmond.
Larson urged the air district to give a formal role in developing and tracking the fence-line systems to people who live near the refineries.
"Otherwise, the trust won't be there," he said. "This is supposed to be community monitoring."
Demian Bulwa is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: dbulwa@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @demianbulwa

Chevron agrees to pay $2M in Calif. refinery fire
Updated 6:24 pm, Monday, August 5, 2013

  • FILE - In this Aug. 6, 2012 file photo, fire crews pour water on a fire at the Chevron Richmond Refinery in Richmond, Calif., Officials have told residents of two Northern California cities to shelter-in-place as a fire at the refinery releases plumes of black smoke.   Richmond city leaders will hold a news conference Friday Aug. 2, 2013 to announce their lawsuit against Chevron over last year's refinery fire.  NORTHERN CALIFORNIA MANDATORY CREDIT PHOTOG & CHRONICLE; MAGS OUT; ; Photo: San Francisco Chronicle, Lance Iversen

FILE - In this Aug. 6, 2012 file photo, fire crews pour water on a fire at the Chevron Richmond Refinery in Richmond, Calif., Officials have told residents of two Northern California cities to shelter-in-place as a fire at the refinery releases plumes of black smoke. Richmond city leaders will hold a news conference Friday Aug. 2, 2013 to announce their lawsuit against Chevron over last year's refinery fire. NORTHERN CALIFORNIA MANDATORY CREDIT PHOTOG & CHRONICLE; MAGS OUT; ; Photo: San Francisco Chronicle, Lance Iversen
RICHMOND, Calif. (AP) — Chevron Corp. on Monday agreed to pay $2 million in fines and restitution and pleaded no contest to six charges in a fire last summer at its refinery in the San Francisco Bay Area city of Richmond that sent thousands of residents to hospitals, many complaining of respiratory problems.
The San Ramon-based oil giant entered the plea to charges filed by the California Attorney General's Office and the Contra Costa District Attorney's Office, including failing to correct deficiencies in equipment and failing to require the use of certain equipment to protect employees from potential harm.
Both Chevron and government investigations determined that corrosion in a pipe caused a leak that sparked the Aug. 6, 2012, fire, sending a plume of black smoke over nearby residential areas. The investigations found Chevron failed to replace the 1970s-era pipe despite numerous warnings from its own inspectors.
"This criminal case achieves our goals of holding Chevron accountable for their conduct, protecting the public, and ensuring a safer work environment at the refinery," Contra Costa District Attorney Mark Peterson said in a statement.
In January, the company said in a report to county health officials that it had already paid about $10 million in connection to nearly 24,000 claims from residents, and in compensation to area hospitals and local government agencies in Richmond and in Contra Costa County.
Company officials said most of that $10 million went to hospitals for medical exams and treatment immediately following the incident.
Chevron also is still facing nearly $1 million in citations issued by Cal OSHA, state Department of Industrial Relations Director Christine Baker said in a statement. Chevron has appealed that fine.
As part of Monday's agreement, Chevron will inspect all piping subject to the type of corrosion that caused the pipe at the Richmond refinery to fail and update its emergency response training program, according to prosecutors.
Chevron spokeswoman Melissa Ritchie confirmed the agreement with prosecutors and said the company is committed to improving safety at the refinery.
Ritchie said Chevron is conducting a comprehensive inspection of its refinery and also implementing a multimillion-dollar expansion of its air-monitoring system to include several sites in the surrounding communities.
A metallurgical report showed the 40-year-old pipe that failed, causing the leak, initially was weakened by the heavy sulfur content of the crude oil being pumped through it. After a small leak sent hydrocarbons into the air, a small flash fire was put out. But a larger gash in the pipe released a bigger cloud of flammable gas, leading to a larger fire.
A video released by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board in April showed how Chevron's decision not to shut down production after the small pipe leak was detected led to a series of bad decisions that made the leak worse. In one scene, a company firefighter strikes the pipe with a pike pole while trying to help colleagues pinpoint the leak.
A vapor cloud eventually engulfed 19 employees before the fire ignited. The workers escaped serious injury.
The $2 million sum Chevron has agreed to pay includes $1.28 million in fines, $575,000 in reimbursements to the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the State Attorney General's Office. Chevron also must contribute $145,000 to a public-private partnership focused on training people for work in the renewable energy and construction fields.
Chevron is still facing a lawsuit from the city of Richmond. The city filed the lawsuit Friday, alleging the pipeline leak that led to the fire was the result of "years of neglect, lax oversight and corporate indifference to necessary safety inspection and repairs."
Chevron has said the lawsuit is without merit.
Chevron pleads no contest to criminal charges stemming from Richmond refinery fire
By Robert Rogers and Malaika Fraley
Contra Costa Times

Posted:   08/05/2013 11:25:36 AM PDT
Updated:   08/05/2013 08:39:29 PM PDT

Click photo to enlarge
Firefighting crews continue to pour water onto a unit after a fire at a Chevron refinery on...
MARTINEZ -- Chevron will pay $2 million in fines and restitution after pleading no contest Monday to six misdemeanor criminal charges stemming from a fire at its Richmond refinery last year.
Chevron attorneys accepted the terms, including 3 1/2 years of probation, $1.28 million in fines, and more than $720,000 in restitution payments to three different agencies.
The penalties resulted from joint charges filed Monday in Contra Costa Superior Court by state Attorney General Kamala Harris and Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark Peterson. The terms of the plea had been agreed to by both sides before Monday's hearing.
"This criminal case achieves our goals of holding Chevron accountable for their
TV news crews, along with the curious, gather on a hillside in Point Richmond to photograph the the fire in an oil unit at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, Calif., Monday, Aug. 6, 2012. (D. Ross Cameron/Staff) (D. Ross Cameron/Staff file)
conduct, protecting the public, and ensuring a safer work environment at the refinery," Peterson said in a news release. Peterson also praised Chevron for its "commitment to do more than what is required by law" to prevent future accidents.
Chevron committed six violations of labor, health and safety standards, according to the complaint. The violations included failure to "correct deficiencies" in equipment, negligent emissions and failure to prevent employees' exposure to hazardous conditions.
The Aug. 6 fire knocked out the refinery's No. 4 crude unit and sent more than 15,000 people to area hospitals complaining of respiratory discomfort and other symptoms. Subsequent investigations have revealed that the fire was caused by a corroded pipe that failed, and that the pipe had been recommended for replacement several times during the previous decade.
In addition to the $1.28 million in fines, Chevron will pay restitution to Richmond BUILD, a local workforce development program, Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Cal/OSHA and the state Attorney General's Office.
Chevron spokeswoman Melissa Ritchie issued a statement Monday saying "Chevron U.S.A. has resolved this matter by agreement with the offices of the Contra Costa County District Attorney and the Attorney General of the State of California." Ritchie added that the company is committed to improving safety at the refinery.
"We have reimbursed community members and local government agencies in Richmond and West Contra Costa County for medical and response-related costs," Ritchie said. "We are conducting a comprehensive inspection of our refinery."
Frank Pitre, of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, the law firm which is suing Chevron on behalf of the city, said it was too early to speculate on what impact if any the criminal case will have on the city's suit.
"What I can say is this is the same company that just last Friday issued a press statement calling Richmond's lawsuit meritless, yet at the same time was negotiating a settlement to resolve criminal charges against them," Pitre said. "The hypocrisy is astounding."
Christine Baker, director of the Department of Industrial Relations, which oversees Cal/OSHA, released a statement Monday saying the agency is "appreciative of the reimbursement allotted to Cal/OSHA as part of the resolution for the People v. Chevron U.S.A. Inc. case."
Cal/OSHA received $299,631 in the plea agreement, making it the recipient of the largest share of restitution payments. The agency fined Chevron nearly $1 million on Jan. 30 for a slew of safety violations revealed in investigations following the fire.
Andres Soto, an activist with Communities for a Better Environment, a frequent Chevron critic, said he needed more details about the deal.
"What is curious to me is how the city of Richmond seems to be cut out of any restitution," Soto said.
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726 or rrogers@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/roberthrogers.

Criminal complaint filed against Chevron on Monday in Contra Costa County Superior Court
Attorney General complaint criminal complaint against Chevron
The Chevron Richmond fire, 1 year later
It was one year ago Tuesday that a leak in a badly corroded pipe at Chevron’s oil refinery in Richmond turned into a full-blown rupture and fireball, sending up a plume of smoke that prompted 15,000 people in the region to go to the hospital to complain of breathing problems.
The Aug. 6 fire at Chevron's Richmond refinery sent a plume of smoke across the East Bay.
The Aug. 6 fire at Chevron’s Richmond refinery sent a plume of smoke across the East Bay.
The fire — partly because of the number of victims, and partly because many Richmond residents have long distrusted Chevron — commanded wide attention and drove of whirlwind of activity from people at many levels. There have been lawsuits, protests and criminal investigations. Emergency responders made changes. State lawmakers introduced reform bills. And pollution regulators launched an overhaul of the way emissions are tracked at the Bay Area’s five oil refineries.
The response has encouraged the chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, which investigated the accident and came down hard on Chevron. Rafael Moure-Eraso said in an interview that he saw “a constellation of interest and goodwill to address this problem.” He wants the effort directed at Chevron to become a “blueprint for the country.”
However, many people remain skeptical that the incident will bring lasting change, including some city leaders, residents and environmental watchdogs. To learn more about what has happened so far — and what is promised in the future — read more here.
– Demian Bulwa


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