SACRAMENTO — California safety officials ordered Chevron Corp. to pay a record-high fine of nearly $1 million for safety violations that led to a massive fire last summer at a refinery in the San Francisco Bay Area.
After the Aug. 6 explosion at Chevron's facility in Richmond, Calif., an emergency telephone network advised tens of thousands of people in that city to stay indoors behind closed doors and windows to avoid breathing potentially dangerous sulfuric acid and nitrogen dioxide fumes. About 200 local residents sought medical help, complaining of respiratory problems. In addition, Chevron reported that one of its employees suffered a minor injury.
Cal-OSHA said Wednesday that its investigation of the explosion at a leaking crude refining unit, among other things, showed that Chevron did not follow safety recommendations made by its inspectors in 2002 to replace a corroded pipe that subsequently ruptured and fueled the fire. The company also failed to follow emergency shutdown procedures after the leak was found the day of the fire, the state said.
In all, the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health issued 25 citations against California's biggest oil company, including 11 "willful serious" and 12 lesser "serious" violations related to the blaze, the state said. The $963,200 fine is the highest in Cal-OSHA history, the agency said.
"Ensuring worker safety is the employer's responsibility," said Christine Baker, director of the state Department of Industrial Relations, which oversees Cal-OSHA. "Refineries must take the steps needed to prevent incidents like the August Chevron fire. Failure to do so can pose great dangers to workers, surrounding communities and the environment."
Chevron said it intends to appeal some of the citations. "Chevron takes our commitment to safe operations seriously," the San Ramon, Calif., company said in a statement. "Although we acknowledge that we failed to live up to our own expectations in this incident, we do not agree with several of the Cal-OSHA findings and its characterization of some of the alleged violations as 'willful.'"
The company reported that since the fire it has taken a number of corrective actions to enhance safety, mechanical integrity and management oversight at the third-largest refinery in California, which processes 245,000 barrels of crude oil a day. The damaged refining unit is being repaired and should be back in operation by the end of March, Chevron said.
Chevron's laxity endangered its neighbors, said state Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), who represents the Richmond area. "The community expects more and demands more of Chevron," she said. "Chevron needs to step up to the plate."