The Chevron Corp. may face more penalties including prison time for employees stemming from a federal investigation of a California pollution case.
The Environmental Protection Agency is investigating actions at the company’s Richmond, California refinery after local officials in 2009 determined that pollution controls were bypassed, according to company and local officials.
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which enforces air-pollution rules in nine counties near San Francisco, discovered Chevron employees routed gas emissions around monitoring equipment then burned off the excess, violating local rules. The agency forced the company to end the practice it said was used at least 27 times in four years, said Wayne Kino, the district’s enforcement manager. Chevron paid a $170,000 penalty to settle the agency’s civil case.
“It now appears that EPA has chosen to take that case” as a criminal prosecution, Kino said yesterday in an interview.“There are indications that they are investigating, but they don’t talk about it.”
A flaring system is used in emergencies to eliminate gases that could be increasing to dangerous levels, Kino said. Refineries had been flaring gas for routine maintenance before the local air quality board imposed standards in 2004, he said.
A criminal prosecution might mean further fines or even jail time for employees involved at the Richmond refinery. A total of 249 individuals or companies were charged last year after an EPA criminal investigation. Agency prosecutions last year resulted in sending violators to prison for 89.5 years and fines of $35 million.