The state of California has fine Chevron nearly $1 million in connection with a 2012 fire at its
refinery; the incident sent a cloud of gas and black smoke over residential areas.
Smoke and gas from the fire sent thousands of people to physicians and hospitals, most complaining of eye irritation and breathing problems. The fire was caused by a decades-old pipe that the company willfully chose not to replace. Chevron has already paid $10 million to settle nearly 24,000 claims from residents, nearby hospitals and local government agencies in Richmond and
. Most of that money went to hospitals in the area to cover the cost of the increased numbers of medical exams and treatments that followed the incident.
Investigators into the fire found that Chevron displayed "willful violations" before, during and after the Aug. 6 fire, which was caused by an old, leaky pipe in one of the facility's crude units, according to Ellen Widess, chief of the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA).
In delivering their findings, the agency filed 25 citations against Chevron, and noted that the $963,200 fine was the largest the state could bring.
"Our ... investigation showed that Chevron had repeated warnings and recommendations from its own metallurgists and pipe inspectors about the condition of this pipe," Widess explained. OSHA said that the company didn't follow its own inspectors’ recommendations, made in 2002, to replace the corroded pipe that ultimately ruptured and caused the fire.
"Chevron was in a unique position to really know the hazards that they deal with from their dynamic technologies and processes, many of which are proprietary. They alone were in position to have addressed these hazards."
In addition to ignoring calls to repair the problematic pipe, OSHA cited Chevron for not following its own emergency shutdown procedures when the leak was first spotted; the agency also said Chevron exposed workers to harm by not ensuring they wore proper safety equipment when going back into the burnt out crude unit following the blaze.
Eleven of the violations were classified as "willful," a label that carries a great deal of stigma with it, because Chevron didn’t take actions to eliminate conditions that could be dangerous for employees.