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Chevron Agrees to Pay $200,000 for 2021 Bay Fuel Spill at Richmond Refinery

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A large oil slick on water off a shore lit by lights at the refinery there.
An oily sheen spreads across bay waters to Point Richmond after a pipeline leaked at Chevron's Richmond refinery on Feb. 9, 2021. (Courtesy of San Francisco Baykeeper)

Chevron has agreed to pay $200,000 in a settlement over a pipeline rupture at its Richmond refinery that led to the release of hundreds of gallons of diesel fuel into the San Francisco Bay in February 2021.

The decision comes months after California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) investigators forwarded their findings on the spill to the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office.

“Corporations must be held strictly liable for any discharges of diesel into San Francisco Bay,” Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton said in a statement released Friday.

Chevron will pay $70,000 in civil penalties that will go toward wildlife funds, and $130,000 to reimburse CDFW’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response, according to court documents.

In October 2021, the Contra Costa Hazardous Materials Programs department posted a three-page report (PDF) by the oil company, which said its inspections failed to detect the corrosion on the pipeline that led to the release.

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According to that report, a small hole in the pipeline on the refinery’s Richmond Long Wharf allowed close to 800 gallons of diesel fuel mixed with water to spill and spread for several miles along the Richmond shoreline. The release led to the closure of Keller Beach at the Miller/Knox Regional Shoreline.

In the report, Chevron also said it learned of the spill after a member of the public told a company employee about the fuel in the water.

The cement-lined steel pipe that ruptured was used to carry ballast water or refined fuel between tankers docked at the wharf and the refinery complex. The company said the pipe failed due to internal corrosion.

The company has agreed to a series of measures aimed at preventing a similar release. They include a “more comprehensive pipeline inspection program, the piloting of a leak detection system, a detailed review of existing systems, and improved training of staff,” according to the county District Attorney's Office.

“We are committed to applying what has been learned so that a similar event does not happen again,” Chevron said as part of a statement issued by company spokesperson Brian Hubinger.

Some city officials, environmentalists and community members have said the spill is an example of Chevron failing to safely and responsibly run its refinery and have complained about the slow pace in which information has been revealed to the public about an incident that caused ecological damage to the bay.

Contra Costa County has also hired AcuTech, a global consulting firm, to review Chevron’s root-cause analysis of the spill.

The District Attorney’s Office last filed charges against Chevron in August 2013 in connection with a major fire at the refinery the previous year — to which Chevron pleaded no contest and paid $2 million in fines and restitution.

News of Friday's settlement comes a week after Chevron posted its second-highest quarterly profit in its history: $11.2 billion in the three months ending September 30. The company's highest-ever quarterly profit, $11.6 billion, was recorded the previous quarter.


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