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Chevron fined nearly $1M for Calif. refinery fire

By JASON DEAREN Published: January 31, 2013

The investigation also cited the company for failing to file in writing its mandated “thorough review” of a new type of pipe that it wants to use in replacement of the old one that failed.

Company spokesman Sean Comey said Chevron disagreed with some of the violations.

“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,“' he said in an email. “Chevron intends to appeal.”

Smoke and gas from the fire prompted thousands of people to seek medical treatment, with many complaining of eye irritation and breathing problems.

The fire was caused by a decades-old pipe that the company had neglected to replace, even after inspecting areas near the segment that failed less than a year earlier.

Chevron has paid $10 million in connection to nearly 24,000 claims from residents and to nearby hospitals and local government agencies in Richmond and Contra Costa County, the company said in a report filed earlier this week.

Most of that money went to the hospitals to pay for medical exams and treatments following the incident.

While the fines may not be a major deterrent for a company that earned an estimated $25 billion in 2012, the agency said industry is often more sensitive to a violations classification, such as “willful,” than monetary penalties.

“There's a huge stigma to willful violations with all industries,” Erika Monterroza, a Cal-OSHA spokeswoman.

Chevron's El Segundo refinery and its oilfield near Bakersfield are also under investigation by Cal-OSHA.

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