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Record fines for Chevron's refinery fire at the same time company brings in record profits

Money has been slipping through Chevron’s fingers, it seems, as it continues to pay for an August fire in Richmond, Calif., that sent hydrocarbons and black smoke through surrounding cities and jeopardized the lives of workers and community members alike.

Just this week, Cal/OSHA fined Chevron nearly $1 million – a record for the agency – for 11 “willful” and 12 “serious” violations. Cal/OSHA says that Chevron “intentionally and knowingly failed to comply with state safety standards” leading to a catastrophic fire that put workers and the surrounding community at serious risk.

Additionally, the oil titan paid $10 million in medical claims resulting from the fire, reimbursing 23,900 requests for compensation after an estimated 15,000 people sought treatment for respiratory and other health issues. 

If you think that’s a lot of money, consider that Chevron brought in record 4th-quarter profits in 2012 – to the tune of $7.2 billion that quarter alone

All of this was preventable. It began when a severely corroded pipe in Chevron’s #4 Crude Unit began leaking. Instead of ordering the shutdown of the unit, Chevron managers instructed workers to remove insulation. This led to the pipe’s rupture and a massive fire.

Though no workers were seriously injured, Cal/OSHA immediately launched an investigation into the fire and the leak repair procedures throughout the refinery, and found the following:

 

  • Chevron did not follow the recommendations of its own inspectors and metallurgical scientists to replace the corroded pipe that ultimately ruptured and caused the fire. Those recommendations dated back to 2002.
  • Chevron did not follow its own emergency shutdown procedures when the leak was identified, and did not protect its employees and employees of Brand Scaffolding who were working at the leak site.

 

Chevron still faces a lawsuit involving 10,000 plaintiffs over safety issues at the refinery.

Critical safety issues tend to plague oil and gas companies, as they seem to prioritize profits over workers’ health and safety. Chevron’s Richmond refinery fire joins the list of the industry’s recent disasters, including BP’s Texas City refinery explosion and its Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.

There continue to be far too many preventable fatalities and injuries among oil and gas workers, and the industry needs to be held accountable. National COSH commends Cal/OSHA for issuing this record fine.

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