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After a massive fire at its Bay Area refinery in Richmond, CA, Chevron is now facing a fine of almost $1 million, marking the highest amount allowed by state law and in state workplace safety history.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) issued the fine Wednesday for violations during a fire that occurred in Richmond in August.

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There were 25 citations totaling $963,200.

“Our investigators found willful violations in Chevron’s response before, during and after the fire,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Ellen Widess.

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The agency said it has ongoing investigations at Chevron’s El Segundo Refinery and its oilfield in Lost Hills near Bakersfield.

While there were no serious injuries to refinery workers who managed to escape harm during the Aug. 6, 2012 blaze in Richmond, thousands of residents in the surrounding community went into shelter-in-place mode and quite a few went to the hospital complaining of respiratory problems.

Chevron is also facing a lawsuit by 10,000 plaintiffs and this week said it has paid $10 million in claims to the 24,000 plaintiffs who suffered from breathing problems and other ailments following the fire.

In a statement, Chevron spokesman Sean Comey said the company plans to appeal: “We are in the process of reviewing the citations issued by Cal/OSHA. Chevron takes our commitment to safe operations seriously. Although we acknowledge that we failed to live up to our own expectations in this incident, we do not agree with several of the Cal/OSHA findings and its characterization of some of the alleged violations as ‘willful.'”

Immediately following the announcement, Rep. George Miller (D-CA), whose district includes the refinery, said in a statement: “Citations released today by Cal/OSHA show that Richmond’s Chevron refinery operated outside the margins of safety, putting the life and health of workers and nearby residents at risk. While this fine is the largest in Cal/OSHA’s history, I believe it alone is an insufficient assurance to the West County residents and the refinery’s workers that they will receive the necessary safety protections they deserve.”

The Cal/OSHA investigation found Chevron willfully violated longstanding industry practices needed to prevent the pipe failure that caused the fire at the Richmond refinery. Investigators also found the refinery had a pervasive practice of operating outside the margins of safety by failing to properly repair leaking pipes carrying flammable materials.

Chevron highlighted the positive things the company has done in the wake of the fire. Comey said this week, Chevron submitted an update the company’s corrective actions.

Chevron said the company is:
• Enhancing inspections of piping components potentially susceptible to sulfidation corrosion since carbon steel components with low-silicon content can corrode at an accelerated rate. This inspection program is taking place throughout the company’s refinery system worldwide.
• Strengthening reliability programs for piping and equipment, and enhancing competency requirements for leaders, inspectors and engineers.
• Strengthening leak response protocols and reinforcing the authority that everyone has to shut down equipment.
• Creating more management oversight and accountability for process safety and re-emphasizing focus on process safety.

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