Posted by Laird Harrison and Jon Brooks
Chevron on Monday took issue with a San Francisco Chronicle report that the company routed a pipe around monitoring equipment so that some emissions at its Richmond oil refinery would escape detection. Chevron was fined $170,000 for the incidents, and the EPA's criminal enforcement unit is investigating, the Chron said. From the article...
"They were routing gas through that pipe to the flare that they were not monitoring," said Jack Broadbent, executive director of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, whose inspectors uncovered what Chevron was doing and ordered the bypass pipe removed...
Federal criminal investigators are trying to determine who at Chevron was aware of the bypass pipe and whether the company used it intentionally to deceive air-pollution regulators. Chevron says its use was inadvertent and that it estimates that the amount of released sulfur dioxide - one of the major components of flaring gas pollution - was minimal. Full article
Here is today's statement from Chevron:
Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle article incorrectly alleges that Chevron U.S.A. Inc. deliberately “fashioned a pipe inside its refinery that routed hydrocarbon gases around monitoring equipment” to flare hydrocarbons without reporting.
The pipe at issue is an equalization line and is part of a safety system to control pressure build-up that was in place before implementation of the 2003 Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) flare-monitoring regulation. When Chevron installed six flow meters to comply with the regulation, we did not recognize the need for a meter on this line and we advised BAAQMD of this issue three years ago and remedied it then.
Chevron has spent millions of dollars to reduce SO2 emissions caused by flaring by over 85%, and we are proud of this effort. We estimate that unmetered emissions from 2004-2009 that your article discussed were approximately 200 pounds of SO2—approximately 0.03% of all SO2 emissions caused by flaring in these years. This amount is so small that even if it were metered, a causal report would not be required by BAAQMD, and it presented no public health risk. Given Chevron’s efforts to manage flaring, and that all of our flaring is videotaped and available for regulatory review, there is no reason that the company would have acted as your article suggests, and we are concerned that you ignored these facts.
We will continue to cooperate with the government’s investigation and demonstrate our commitment to protecting people and the environment.
General Manager, Richmond Refinery
So Chevron's statement says it was the company itself that brought the matter to the attention of BAAQMD. That's not what a BAAQMD official says in the Chron report:
Wayne Kino, an enforcement manager for the air-quality district, said two inspectors with the agency became suspicious Aug. 17, 2009, when they saw steam from a flare coming from a high-pressure, high-temperature hydrocracking complex in Richmond called the Isomax unit, where 62,000 barrels of oil a day are converted into gasoline and jet fuel.
The inspectors asked to see Chevron's pollution-monitoring equipment, and discovered "it wasn't recording anything," Kino said.
Update: KQED's Cy Musiker spoke to Wayne Kino, the BAAQMD manager cited in the Chronicle article. Kino confirmed that the pipe in question pre-dated the regulations that required monitoring of emissions. "Prior to 2004, any flow through that pipe [would have been] legal. After our rule [requiring monitoring of emissions] in 2004, they should have put monitors on it or eliminated that line given the use."
He did not indicate that Chevron brought the violation to the agency's attention, as Chevron claims in its statement. Here's Kino's account of how the violation was discovered, which he also told to the Chronicle:
In 2009 our inspectors were doing an inspection of the facility unrelated to the flare. They did notice there was some flare activity, they went to the flow monitors for the flare, and discovered the monitor showed zero flow. So their visual of seeing some flaring and the monitoring recording equipment not recording the flow, there was something wrong there and they investigated further.
When asked directly whether Chevron was trying to deceive regulators, he would only say, "they failed to notify us."
As to the magnitude of the health risk, Kino said, "We found they had used it 27 times from 2005 to 2009. I would characterize these events as fairly small, but as far as trying to determine exactly how much went out…we really don't know. Each event was different."
Here's the full interview with Wayne Kino.