Community questions Chevron in wake of refinery fire

The Chevron refinery fire spread a cloud of toxic smoke around the Bay Area.
SF Newspaper Co.

This post has been updated to correct information concerning the Ecuadorian lawsuit against Chevron.

In the wake of last night’s fire at Chevron's oil refinery in Richmond, community members are asking questions about exactly what happened, what health risks the public was exposed to, and whether the facility is safe.

Tonight [Tue/7], they’ll get a chance to ask those and other questions of Chevron representatives as the company hosts a townhall meeting at 6pm, preceded by a rally called by Asian Pacific Environmental Network at 5:30, both at Richmond Memorial Auditorium, 403 Civic Center Plaza, Richmond.

The fire ignited just before 6:30pm and burned for more than three hours before it was contained. As the fire burned, thousands of residents were warned to stay indoors, seal off all doors and windows, and, preferably hiding in rooms with no windows or doors within their homes.

This morning, Chevron spokesperson Heather Kulp reported that a preliminary investigation showed that the fire was a result of a hydrocarbon vapor leak that ignited. She denied that any explosion occurred, despite witness reports that they heard loud booms.

“There was an ignition. That may be what people are talking about hearing,” she told ABC.

On KQED’s Forum program this morning, she implied that an expansion of the plant that was stalled by the courts after being challenged by environmentalists -- which she termed an “upgrade” -- might have prevented the fire. But that notion by dismissed by Communities for a Better Environment, which said in a prepared statement, “This crude unit was not part of what it was going to replace.”

They and others were also skeptical of company assurances that the fire never presented a danger to the community. “We do have in place comprehensive plans and procedures to respond to situations like the ones we are facing this evening, and we are taking appropriate measures necessary to provide for the safety and security of our facilities, our employees and our surrounding community,” said the refinery’s general manger Nigel Hearne last night.

But APEN reports that a multi-lingual warning system that includes boxes installed in residents homes may have failed. “To compound Chevron's lack of safety accountability in last night's refinery fire/explosion, the multi-lingual warning systems that APEN and our allies fought for and won, failed. Many residents reported not being properly notified and are now experiences dizziness, headaches and other symptoms of exposure to toxins,” the statement reads.

More than 300 people flooded emergency rooms in the hours after the fire ignited complaining of respiratory problems. This is not the first time that Richmond residents have been affected by toxic fumes from the Chevron oil refinery. A similar fire happened in 2007 and burned for 10 hours.

Sierra Club put out a cautionary statement on the incident: “No one should have to live downwind of a dangerous oil refinery. Our thoughts are with the families living near the Chevron facility who must now contend with the aftermath and long-term health consequences of breathing in smoke filled with dangerous particulate matter, soot and cancer-causing toxins like sulfur compounds.”

Yeterday was already a bad day for Chevron -- midnight was their deadline to pay a $19 billion settlement, to be paid into a fund managed by the Ecuadorian government, following a decades-long lawsuit. The company was found guilty of widespread land contanimation there, including releasing toxic water into rivers and streams, dumping waste in unlined pits, and frequent oil spills and gas flares.

The company did not pay by the midnight deadline.

"The plaintiffs will continue to seek enforcement of that ruling in other countries where Chevron has assets," said Paul Paz y Mino, spokesperson for Amazon Watch.

Chevron claims that the ruling in Ecuador was invalid and based on fraud, and has refused to pay the settlement money. "The Ecuador judgment is a product of bribery, fraud, and it is illegitimate. Chevron does not believe that the Ecuador judgment is enforceable in any court that observes the rule of law," reads a statement from the company.

“I don’t know if the two are connected in any way,” said Karen Hinton, spokesperson for the Amazon Defense Council. “But certainly the fire is in keeping with what we see in other countries, which is a disregard for the rule of law and an attitude of, if we can skirt safety regulations, we will.”


Hundreds of people have now gone to the hospital. Residents of Richmond have to suffer with increased rates of cancer and asthma, the company doesn't give a damn, and most of the politicians are bought off. The few who aren't, like Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, have to face constant corporate funded attacks.

The company's response is just disgusting. What they refer to as "upgrade and modernization," was actually a dangerous and ill-conceived plan to modify the facility to be able to take in dirty tar sands crude from Canada. The Richmond community successfully stopped that plan, but the company apparently isn't giving up. Taking a page right out of Naomi Kein's "Shock Doctrine," they're cyncially using a crisis (one of their own making) in order to advance a plan to harm the community even more. All for the sake of making a little bit more money.

The fire almost certainly had nothing to do with the components that would have been replaced, and in any case they could have replaced it without making those modifications. The truth is that, like PG&E, they refuse to replace parts that wear out in order to increase their profits, and then have the audacity to blame environmentalists when those parts fail.

The people who run these corporations are devoid of empathy, devoid of any conscience, devoid of humanity. It's not enough that the company says they're sorry and they'll try to make sure it doesn't happen again... or in the worst case that they pay some dinky fine that they just figure into their business expenses. The bosses of these corporations need to be held *personally* accountable for the hurt they're causing in our communities, up to and including prison.

Posted by Greg on Aug. 07, 2012 @ 8:38 pm

a vast right-wing corporate conspiracy.

Opportunistic rants like this do nothing to actually make facilities safer. you just don't like business - we get it.

And you'd be among the first to whine if higher energy prices happen because they mostly hit the poor.

Posted by lillipublicans on Aug. 07, 2012 @ 10:46 pm

Yet again though the city grew up around the refinery.

The paranoid and strange ravings of the Greg left yet again attribute conspiracy to the happenings of the world.

It's some sort of conspiracy that the natural ebb and flow of the world unfolds.

Posted by matlock on Aug. 09, 2012 @ 6:43 pm

In other words, Chevron should do its best not to kill people, but if they do, then oh well, they shouldn't have chosen to live there and they should just suck it up and die.

Oh, yeah, and insert the word "conspiracy" a couple times. Sure, it's a non-sequitur. But it always sounds good to us the word "conspiracy" when you're trying to trash a view that disagrees with yours. So what the heck, why not?

You're such a caraciture of yourself, that it's barely necessary to paraphrase this.

Posted by Greg on Aug. 09, 2012 @ 8:53 pm

Someone builds a chemicals plant and thousands flock to live right next door to it. Then a leak that might have killed a few, ends up killing thousands.

Property prices in Richmond are low and the murder rate is high for a reason, and it's not Chevron's fault. In fact, the town would be a ghost town without Chevron.

Posted by Anonymous on Aug. 10, 2012 @ 5:07 am

kangeroo court in a foreign country that set out to exploit a foreign wealth-producer.

What if North Korea decides they are owed 19 billion? Iran? you want to just pay them too "because they say so"?

If ecquador thinks they have a case, then they should sue in a US court. Good luck with that.

Hinton says she "doesn't know if there is any connection between that and the fire yesterday"? LOL, really.

Posted by lillipublicans on Aug. 07, 2012 @ 10:49 pm

Kangaroo court... now that's funny. You want to see a kangaroo court? Go down to city hall and watch the "Ethics" Commission proceedings.

Ecuador is a democracy. Unlike this country, the outcome isn't predetermined to favor corporate America. Which of course you yourself realize when you said:
"they should sue in a US court. Good luck with that."

Yeah, you know how that turns out too. Kangaroo court indeed.

No my troll friend masquerading as lillipublicans, if Chevron didn't want to face a court in Ecuador, they shouldn't have committed crimes in Ecuador.

If only we had courts like that here, fewer people would be sick and dying from corporate crime. Remember, we're talking about real people suffering here.

Posted by Greg on Aug. 07, 2012 @ 11:13 pm

"online trolling" which is punishable by stoning in their country, you'd be happy for Uncle Sam to extradite you there because "it's their law"?

Ecuador is a basketcase.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 08, 2012 @ 2:07 am

... then again, to some people it's a positive thing providing them with an extra rush of adrenaline when punching the gas on their oversized SUV; just like when such folk are picturing themselves rolling up on top of -- or otherwise smashing -- smaller vehicles and their occupants.

Posted by lillipublicans© on Aug. 08, 2012 @ 2:11 am

Keep it up, Lilli.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 08, 2012 @ 3:59 am

noble and special, even though homeless people sometimes spit at me.

Posted by lillipublicans© on Aug. 08, 2012 @ 7:24 am

because you are a low form of life. They actually are in some way serving as custodians of society when doing so, as unappealing as such behavior is.

Posted by the *real* lillipublicans© on Aug. 08, 2012 @ 7:39 am

Seriously though dude, if you think cars are evil, then you're whacked.

Posted by No, no, I am the real lillipublicans© on Aug. 08, 2012 @ 8:17 am

Get your facts straight: the Ecuadorians did sue in the US in the early 1990s, and it was Chevron who asked the US court to have the case moved to Ecuador. Chevron submitted more affidavits than you can count stating how impartial and proper the Ecuadorian courts were. On these representations and Chevron's commitment to abide by any decision of the Ecuadorian judiciary, the Second Circuit dismissed the case, over the objections of the Ecuadorian plaintiffs, who wanted the case prosecuted in the US. The Ecuadorian plaintiffs then re-filed the case in Ecuador, won a judgment, and then won again on appeal. What, exactly, is the issue here? This has been going through courts in two countries for nearly 20 years. Chevron lost in the court OF THEIR CHOICE. They should pay.

Posted by Hyperborean on Aug. 08, 2012 @ 6:51 am

submit a claim for collection in a US court. Or they can seize whatever assets Chevron have there although of course nobody then will ever invest in Ecuador again and the country will become (even more of) a basketcase.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 08, 2012 @ 7:15 am

I completely forgot about that aspect of it! Karma's such a bitch, ain't it? At the time, Ecuador, like most of Latin America, was a wholly owned US subsidiary, complete with the essential colonial accessory of a US military base to watch over it all and make sure they're on the straight and narrow upholding the interests of US corporations. Chevron wanted to have their case tried in the kangaroo-iest of kangaroo courts, so they chose Ecuador.

But you know what they say about the best laid plans... in the intervening years, while Chevron was stalling, Ecuador was becoming a democracy. The new president finally broke his country free of the Empire, and the courts eventually changed too. Incidentally, I love the way he did it. Hugo Chavez would've told the Empire to shove it, in colorful language. But Correa is so mild-mannered (though not without a sense of humor). He told the Americans that he'd be happy to renew their lease for the military base in 2009, just as long as he could set up an Ecuadorian military base in Miami. The Americans packed up and left, because of course no one has the right to put a miltary base on US soil.

So now Chevron is reaping what it sowed, at least as far as Ecuador is concerned. And Guest, read the article before commenting. Note that Chevron PAID the $19 billion, just before the midnight deadline. Ecuador will be just fine without the kind of "investment" they've been getting from the US.

Too bad that our own people can't even get the kind of compensation that Ecuador got.

Posted by Greg on Aug. 08, 2012 @ 7:59 am

Let Ecuador try and collect in a US court and then we'll see if the US recognizes the validity of the "verdict" and "fine".

If you don't like the US trying to enforce it's alws overseas, then you shouldn't like foreigners trying to impose their "justice" here.

Let them run their own oil facility if they want. That will make Chevron look safe in comparison.

Posted by lillipublicans© on Aug. 08, 2012 @ 8:22 am

In case you didn't read the article. Actually, I don't even think you read the articles. You trolls just churn out the corporate line. Is Chevron paying you by the word?

Anyway, your argument is absurd. If Chevron committed crimes and hurt people in Ecuador, they should be subject to Ecuadorian law. When the US enforces its "laws" overseas (more often, just enforces its will, not laws), it usually has nothing to do with any crimes the targets of US aggression committed in the US. It's usually the US going overseas to enforce whatever it wants to enforce.

If a foreign corporation kills people in America and destroys our environment, by all means, they should be subject to US law. But that's rarely if ever the case. And when it is... like in the case of BP... the problem is that the US courts are the ones which are kangaroo courts. Always on the side of the corporation.

Posted by Greg on Aug. 08, 2012 @ 10:30 am

You're claiming Chevron paid and he's saying they didn't.

Personally I don't think any US company should pay out just because someone in bongo-bongo land says so. Problem?

Posted by lillipublicans on Aug. 08, 2012 @ 11:00 am

Referring to Ecuador, a country that is more democratic than the US, as "bongo-bongo land" is an example of typical American ignorant racism, and a perfect example of why this country is so hated abroad.

As for getting the story straight, Chevron did pay. If you bother to read the article, it says so. End of story.

Posted by Greg on Aug. 08, 2012 @ 11:48 am

to read the article or make any attempt at staying within the factual realm.

I guess this person took over using my screen name because "I never won an argument." Or maybe its because they don't have much respect for Republicans.

Either way, I'll take it as a compliment.

lillipublicans©, impostered but never equaled

Posted by lillipublicans© on Aug. 08, 2012 @ 6:04 pm

not you claiming to be you when you're not you but an imp?

Posted by Troll II on Aug. 08, 2012 @ 6:57 pm

I think such falsely-signed comments can be detected by a number of clues; and primarily owing to their flimsy intellectual and rhetorical framewords.

Posted by lillipublicans© on Aug. 08, 2012 @ 7:23 am

I was simply showing you using wit and irony that anyone can post as anyone else here, so no handle carries any more weight than "Guest" or Anon".

Did anyone die in this accident?

Didn't think so. One person died during Occupy so clearly Occupy is more dangerous than Chevron.

Posted by lillipublicans© on Aug. 08, 2012 @ 8:19 am

enough to go to the hospital. But the bigger issue is that breathing in these fumes will cause cancer down the road. You never know which individuals it will strike, but statistically, there will be some deaths as a result of this crime.

Posted by Greg on Aug. 08, 2012 @ 10:20 am

The air was far filthier 100 years ago and it was technological progress and business investment that fixed it, and not a bunch of whiney left-wingers.

Posted by lillipublicans on Aug. 08, 2012 @ 10:58 am

...and the whiney left-wingers who struggled for it. Ever heard of the Clean Air Act?

Posted by Greg on Aug. 08, 2012 @ 11:43 am

Outside of a couple of SF districts anyway. It was Republicans and Democrats who passed those laws - the same parties that SFBG claims are vehicles of the right-wing.

Those parties are funded by big business. Oops.

Posted by lillipublicans on Aug. 09, 2012 @ 3:34 am

like the USSR and East Germany were hell on the environment. So much for the people's Utopia.

Our leftists get to pick and choose their way through things, greg gets to bemoan the single party state while bemoaning that some operations don't follow the dictates of the single party state. It's a win win situation for the greg's of the world.

The single party state is cracking down on weed growers while enforcing certain laws at the behest of the conspiracy, and yet "the people" have enacted some laws here and there.

Posted by matlock on Aug. 09, 2012 @ 6:49 pm

All leftism/progressivism/liberalism etc is all the same, and it's all equivalent to the USSR,
There is no picking and choosing in matlock's simple world/mind. If some laws and functions of the state are good/bad, then all laws and functions of the state are good/bad.

There is no nuance in matlock's simple mind. The possibility that there are competing interests at work in the nation -that often corporate power dominates, but sometimes popular movements are able to prevail and enact changes that place some checks and limits on that power -this possibility simply does not exist. A state is either all bad, or all good. Supporting certain aspects that help people, while opposing other aspects that hurt people, seems hypocritical to this simple mind, because this mind is unable to grasp the concept of nuance.

Posted by Greg on Aug. 09, 2012 @ 9:07 pm

Actually, I wrote that "signing your comment as 'Guest' it hardly carries any weight;" by which I meant that -- barring vandals -- one might be able to establish some track record of correctness or knowledgeability by using *any* unique name to post under.

So, it is rather typical of the mendacity prevalent among those who regularly make contrarian posts on this site that you utilized a feeble straw-man technique to dismiss my point of view. It's pretty tranparent and can be easily identified in so many stories and topics covered here.

Posted by lillipublicans on Aug. 08, 2012 @ 9:16 am

and so any claimant to gravitas based on a transient handle is meaningless.


Posted by lillipublicans on Aug. 08, 2012 @ 10:06 am

bathrooms can be provided to the public as a basic characteristic of our human society is meaningless now: too many repugnant dirt balls in the world who look on it not only as their "right," but almost like some sort of personal duty to foul such places.

Bravo for you! Look at what you've accomplished!

Posted by lillipublicans on Aug. 08, 2012 @ 10:19 am

for continually stuffing ten-dollar words into otherwise graceless sentences. As Greg will tell you from experience, the hijacking of your name occurs once you've become so annoying as to alienate everyone, a condition I'm certain you're familiar with.

Posted by Greg's cousin on Aug. 08, 2012 @ 10:32 am

I just wish he would reap a job and actually contribute beyond mindless, clueless internet whinery.

Posted by lillipublicans on Aug. 08, 2012 @ 11:05 am

should be happy that Chevron gives them jobs.

Posted by The Real Lillipublicans on Aug. 08, 2012 @ 9:39 am

frankly, without one of the world's leading companies investing billions there, it would be far worse, and probably joining the long list of CA cities filing for bankruptcy.

Choose your poison.

Posted by lillipublicans on Aug. 08, 2012 @ 10:08 am

I hope you remain so flippant when you're suffering from cancer.

Posted by Greg on Aug. 08, 2012 @ 10:23 am

I just checked with the AMA and they know nothing about that.

Posted by lillipublicans on Aug. 08, 2012 @ 10:56 am

beat it, remain flippant.

Posted by Greg's cousin on Aug. 08, 2012 @ 10:28 am

I live in Richmond and I have been coughing a lot since the evening of the fire. Never heard the first alarm. Didn't close windows until I noticed the smoke. Now I feel odd because if I do develop some health problem I want Chevron to pay up, but I don't wanna be overzealous by going to the doctor over something that could go away in a few days.
You see, it's complicated if you are actually living it.

Posted by Guest roko on Aug. 09, 2012 @ 9:46 am

I'm sure suing a corporation represents your best dand only chance of being able to afford to live in a dump like Richmond.

So, overall, you're happy about the accident, then? It's a good thing, right, because it gave you a payday?

Posted by Anonymous on Aug. 09, 2012 @ 11:14 am

There are hundreds of chemicals in that smoke, as well as particulate matter that can get lodged in your lungs and cause cancer at a later date. Many of those chemicals haven't been adequately studied in terms of their effects on health, let alone the effects of multiple chemicals interacting with each other. If I were you, I would have left town and gotten a hotel somewhere for a few days. As it is, go to the doctor. And then by all means, call an attorney. People need to be as zealous about protecting their health, as the corporations are about protecting their profits.

Posted by Greg on Aug. 09, 2012 @ 6:13 pm

about your desire for a "hillbilly handout" payment from a corporation. And yes, smoke makes people cough. Now you don't have to visit the doctor.

Posted by Greg's well-hung lover on Aug. 09, 2012 @ 10:17 am

My dad has worked at the refinery for over 30 years and has complained my whole life about how strict the safety regulations are at chevron. They are strict and take more precautions then any other company ive heard of. People just talk and don't know.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 18, 2013 @ 2:27 pm

Probably because they are successful.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 18, 2013 @ 2:52 pm

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