Chevron Fends Off Charges of Wrongdoing at Richmond Refinery

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KQED's CY MUSIKER: There's a meeting Monday night in Richmond -- a chance for neighbors of the giant Chevron refinery to quiz Chevron staff and state and federal regulators about the big refinery fire last month.

The meeting comes the day after The San Francisco Chronicle reported on a criminal investigation of Chevron by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA is looking at Chevron's use of a pipe that directed high-pressure gases to a flare and bypassed air pollution monitors at the refinery.

The investigation reportedly centers on whether the company intentionally routed pollutants around the monitors.

Wayne Kino is enforcement manager at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. And Mr. Kino, Chevron is saying today that it brought this bypass pipe to the attention of air regulators -- not the other way around. What do you make of that claim?

WAYNE KINO: Well, the pipe was there prior to 2004, which was the implementation of our rule. So, prior to 2004, any flow through that pipe into the flare would be legal. Chevron characterizes this pipe as ... that there should be no flow from the particular vessel it originated from to the flare. It should be, sort of the other way around from the flare to this vessel, where in fact, we found that the flow was going straight from this vessel to the flares. So, after our rule enactment in 2004, they should have put monitors on it or eliminated that line given the use that they were using it for.

MUSIKER: Was Chevron trying to deceive regulators at your agency by building that bypass pipe?

KINO: You know, the bypass pipe was in there prior to our rule taking effect. So, the fact that it was there wasn't meant to bypass our regulations because it was there prior to our regulations. After 2004, when our regulation was passed, they had an obligation to either identify that line -- that it had a potential to emit flow to the flare and to monitor it and/or eliminate it -- and that's what they failed to do.

MUSIKER: So, in fact, it shouldn't be that Chevron is using a flare to burn off gases it doesn't want to have around just because it's more convenient.

KINO: Correct.

MUSIKER: And Chevron also says that emissions that weren't metered were extremely small -- about 200 lbs of sulfur dioxide. That's what you get when you burn a match, say, when you smell a burning match, and that that gas would have posed no public health risk. How does that match with what you know of the investigation?

KINO: I would characterize these events as fairly small, because a flare can burn off a lot of gas. But as far as trying to determine exactly how much went out these flares, we really don't know, because it happened in the past and each event was different.

MUSIKER: Your agency reached a settlement with Chevron over the pipe in August of last year, and Chevron paid $170,000 for two of the 27 violations, and the Air District also renewed Chevron's permit for five years. That was in 2011.

KINO: Yes.

MUSIKER: Some might argue that the Air District let Chevron off easy. How do you respond?

KINO: Well, the fact that our first priority is to stop the violation and then to prevent it from happening in the future -- so that's what we did in 2009 -- so immediately upon finding it, it stopped. So that's the focus of our enforcement action. So that's basically our first priority, to eliminate the violations. So that's what they did.

MUSIKER: But the fact is is that they were shunting gases, it seemed, according to the Air District. They were shunting gases through this pipe and flaring them off and bypassing monitors without letting you guys know that that was happening. So was $170,000 really an appropriate fine? Could it have been more?

KINO: That's something that I don't comment on, because I'm the enforcement branch of this agency. You know, all that I can tell you is that $170,000 is a larger fine than most fines that we got from Chevron.

MUSIKER: Thanks so much for talking to us.

KINO: You're welcome.

MUSIKER: Wayne Kino is enforcement manager at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. He'll be at the community meeting on the Chevron refinery fire in Richmond Monday at 6 p.m.

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