After one of the distillation units at its Richmond, Calif., facility exploded last month, Chevron went into image rehabilitation mode. After this morning's San Francisco Chronicle story, the company's going to have to work a lot harder.
Federal authorities have opened a criminal investigation of Chevron after discovering that the company detoured pollutants around monitoring equipment at its Richmond refinery for four years and burned them off into the atmosphere, in possible violation of a federal court order, The Chronicle has learned.
Air quality officials say Chevron fashioned a pipe inside its refinery that routed hydrocarbon gases around monitoring equipment and allowed them to be burned off without officials knowing about it. Some of the gases escaped into the air, but because the company didn’t record them, investigators have no way of being certain of the level of pollution exposure to thousands of people who live downwind from the plant.
According to investigators from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), Chevron ran 100 feet of three-inch pipe from a processing system to a flare tower (used for combusting waste gasses), in the process shunting the gas around a tool meant to monitor waste gas production. The company claimed that the pipe was used to "balance pressure." The BAAQMD "could find no legitimate use for it."