Tag Archives: Chevron

Lessons (Not) Learned From the Chevron Fire

Chevron Refinery Fire

On Friday, federal accident investigators told California legislators that the state’s patchwork of oil industry regulations needs a serious overhaul. The Chevron fire that produced a toxic cloud and sent 15,000 people to the hospital could have been prevented, but the system was reactive and not designed to foresee and forestall problems, said the U.S. Chemical Safety Board. Duh. The board didn’t need 18 months to come to that conclusion. But Don Holstrom, lead investigator for the board, did put his finger on one problem: the need to bump up the number, skills, and authority of refinery inspectors.

Something smells when an agency purposefully cripples its own enforcement abilities. One good example is the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC). The DTSC exists to protect communities like Richmond from toxic harm.  And for years, it’s done a very poor job of it.

The DTSC has broad statutory authority to sanction these giant chemical plants for toxic releases like the one that Chevron caused in its fire, but it consistently refuses. Better yet, the DTSC should play a pro-active role in preventing harm as the department is supposed to do. So, you’d think the DTSC would view having refinery inspectors on staff as a high priority-inspectors that could be given broad latitude to inspect the guts of a refinery where hazardous substances slosh around and not just its excrement. Evidently, the DTSC thinks the fewer refinery inspectors the better.

The DTSC has only two refinery inspectors for the entire state and one of them is green and in training. The DTSC used to have more. But when other inspectors from its refinery unit retired or left, the DTSC didn’t bother to replace them. Nine vacancies in the unit handing refinery inspections were the result. Two scientist positions were approved for the refinery inspection unit and then inexplicably redirected to other positions and regions.

Refinery inspections are the most complex kind and the scientists that do them sometimes take a week to complete them. These scientists know the ins and outs of dealing with refineries. The DTSC maintains that any scientist can conduct a refinery inspection, but that just isn’t true. “Anyone who says that all DTSC scientists can conduct them and are trained to do them is either lying or out of their mind,” says one DTSC career investigator.

Under the direction of Chief Deputy Director Odette Madriago positions can be cut or simply re-directed, the investigator said. On top of that, “Odette has put in place the strictest travel requirements of all CAL EPA.”  The inspectors and investigators that have to travel have to fill out a lengthy document and have to get approval from their supervisor before they can go do an inspection or investigation. “These travel restrictions have allowed polluters to go unchecked and unregulated,” the investigator said.

One explanation is budgets are tight. Another is that it isn’t in the interest of someone like Ms. Madriago to regulate an industry in which she invests. She’s invested up to $100,000 in Chevron and in BP Amoco. Why regulate these refineries and sanction them millions of dollars that could affect their stock price?

Both Ms. Madriago and DTSC Director Debbie Raphael have taken to meeting behind closed doors with refinery executives, say DTSC sources. Normally, when an issue is discussed the DTSC official most involved is invited in to participate. Not anymore. “Ever since Debbie’s been here, Odette goes with Debbie everywhere to take these tours on oil refineries,” said the investigator. “They are inseparable. Odette is always there. They meet with refinery officials without the knowledge of the regulators behind closed doors.” A visit by Ms. Raphael and Ms. Madriago to a Chevron refinery last fall irked inspectors who were never told. “We show up at a refinery and we have to hear it from the city manager or CEO that Debbie and Odette were there,” said one inspector. “We find out when we go.”

Now that manpower is tight, inspections are cursory because they are rushed-and that endangers health and safety, he said. The inspector proposed a program of cross-training between regions so scientists could perform inspections in their own regions. The proposal didn’t even get a cursory response from DTSC’s director. “You just have to put this into perspective, we aren’t robots, we’re human beings,” said the inspector. “You put a lot of stress on inspectors and things get missed. There wasn’t any thorough inspecting going on, how can there be?”

Is it any wonder that California’s refineries experienced 41 new accidents, leaks, chemical releases, fires, break-downs and other failures since the Richmond fire last August? That’s about two a week, according to a new coalition spearheaded by UC Berkeley’s Labor Occupational Health Program that did the research and is calling for a new system of regulation.

With the right resources, DTSC sources say inspectors could help make sure a refinery’s operations were safe. “In some cases, the facility might have some device that is not properly working and hazardous waste might be escaping,” said the investigator. “Corroded pipes are in that ballpark.” Inspectors need to examine an entire facility to make sure what the facility claims about the content of the hazardous waste it generates at the other end is true, he said.

But instead of emphasizing this, Ms. Raphael is dismantling a pollution source reduction program that encouraged businesses to switch out harmful chemicals and use safer technology in favor of reassigning personnel without the appropriate skills to develop rules for manufacturing greener products. “Perhaps Odette is so hell-bent on eliminating the source reduction program because the program has history targeted refineries,” said one DTSC scientist. “Refineries have not appreciated the attention and have complained that we unfairly target them.”

The last thing that is needed is another blue-ribbon commission the DTSC can hide behind
like the one Governor Brown formed to study the issue of refinery regulation. The DTSC began gathering refinery profiles more than a decade ago in an initial step to regulating the industry, a tacit admission that the agency could already be doing far more than it is. Then the industry’s lobbying killed it on the grounds of national security.

No, we need a system where regulators enforce existing laws, prioritize their core responsibilities, and publicly provide information in real time on company audits, fines, and regulatory actions taken by all involved agencies in one central, easily accessed database.

And we need their managers to get out of the way. The day the Chevron fire happened, one inspector was scheduled to take vacation. “I remember saying I can cancel my vacation and my supervisor said I might as well take my vacation. It was business as usual. I didn’t think it was right.” Instead, he said the department has blinders on, slapping down inspectors who want to take a more holistic approach. “Don’t worry about the fuel system or this production unit over here,” he said. “That is what we are told.”

Shame on California-allegedly the most progressive state in the nation-for not already having a refinery strike force of inspectors across agencies working together on assessments of a refinery’s structural integrity, from corroded pipes to fugitive emissions. And shame on California for not taking some players off the existing team-players with financial conflicts of interest like Odette Madriago that may have broken the law.


Posted by Liza Tucker, Consumer Advocate and author of Consumer Watchdog’s Golden Wasteland report on the toxic environment at DTSC. Follow Consumer Watchdog on Facebook or on Twitter.

Was Sen. Rubio Auditioning For Job at Chevron?


The power of the petroleum industry in California may be unparalleled in the states. Its lobbying machine is stupendously successful.  For instance, California remains the only significant oil producer that does not tax oil extracted in the state. It has very weak–perhaps the weakest–regulation of oil and gas extraction, particularly hydraulic fracturing of deep deposits, known as “fracking.” State environmental laws are under constant attack.

State Sen. Michael Rubio, a Central Valley Democrat elected to his seat in 2010, was in an ideal spot to show whose side he was on in these fights.

Rubio, who resigned from the Senate Feb. 22 to work for Chevron as its chief California lobbyist, was chair of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, which oversees oil industry environmental issues. In 2011-12, he was a key Democrat on the Senate’s energy committee.

His most recent official action was an inaction: He was scheduled to co-chair his committee’s hearing on fracking with Sen. Fran Pavley. The hearing took place, airing widespread frustration with the weakness and loopholes of current and proposed state regulation of fracking. Rubio, however, was a no-show.

It’s obvious now that on Feb. 12 he was getting ready to jump ship to Chevron, and likely in no mood to hear citizen fears about water pollution, spoiled land and even fracking-induced earthquakes. But Rubio did, in his short tenure, leave a record that Chevron was surely tracking with admiration.

In hindisght, his biggest moment in the spotlight would have been his months-long campaigning on behalf of a corporate effort to weaken the California Environmental Quality Act. The changes would have particularly benefited the oil, energy and property development industries. The proposals didn’t become law, but they’re not dead yet. Rubio will just be working them from the other side of the fence.

Judy DuganIn May 2012, Rubio also cast the deciding “no” vote against a bill (SB 1054) by Sen. Pavley that would have merely required oil companies to notify residents and businesses nearby in advance of fracking activities. The bill, vociferously opposed by the Western States Petroleum Assn. and other oil lobbyists, failed. Industry opponents of the bill recognized Rubio for his role in leading the opposition that killed a bill with wide public support.

Rubio also supported, and may have encouraged, the governor’s firing of two state energy regulators in 2011 after oil lobby complaints about their tightening of oversight.

(Oil and energy weren’t the only supporters he was courting. Rubio also championed the profits of Blue Cross over the pocketbooks of customers. He withheld his vote in 2011 from a measure that would have allowed the state insurance commissioner to reject health insurance rate increases that could not be justified. In the state Legislature, an abstention from voting is effectively a “no” vote, but with no accountability. It’s the coward’s way out. )

Chevron certainly knows what it’s getting with this new top lobbyist.

Rubio stated that he was leaving his elected post two years early to spend more time with his family, including a disabled child. No matter how much that weighed in his decision, the fact remains that his status as a state senator (however briefly) greatly inreased his value to Chevron. His pay will grow by multples. Because there is no law against such a quick trip through the revolving door–from overseeing an industry to lobbying for it–Rubio could be schmoozing his fellow legislators right now, and spreading money to their campaigns. His constituents, meanwhile, are stuck with no representation until a special election that’s perhaps months away.


Posted by Judy Dugan, former research director for Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing an effective voice for taxpayers and consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

Sen. Michael Rubio leaves Senate for Chevron

Rubio Family photo 2012_Family_zps008c187d.jpgDemocratic Senator wants to spend more time with family

by Brian Leubitz

Michael Rubio was first elected to the Senate in 2010, and it looks like he won’t finish that term to its completion next year. He announced that he will be joining Chevron in its California governmental affairs department.

Rubio, citing the desire to spend more time with his family and a young daughter with special needs, “realized that my current professional path has left little opportunity to be home for those who are most important to me, which is why I am making a change.”

“My wife and I have been blessed with two beautiful daughters, from whom we have learned a great deal,” he said. “Our youngest child, who has special needs, has given me great perspective as to life’s priorities and our eldest has reminded me that the most critical decisions are made at home and not under the Capitol dome.”

The governor will call a special election shortly to fill the Democratic-leaning seat, which has an 18point D registration advantage. However, as Rubio was the chair of the Environmental Quality Committee and a leader on CEQA reform, the move could change the complexion of how we will change our environmental quality laws. As the most moderate of the Senate’s Mod Squad, his absence from the chamber could change the caucus to the left somewhat, even given the temporarily smaller majority.

UPDATE: One quick note, Anthony York points out that the special will be for the old 2010 district, the election in 2014 will be for the new district.

Break Out the Champagne at Chevron!

Chevron Refinery Fire

The news reports were on the gee-whiz side this week as state job safety regulators announced nearly $1 million in fines–the largest ever!– against Chevron for its refinery blaze last August. But “largest ever” only means that the levy hit the state’s $1 million cap on such fines. For Chevron, whose yearly profits are measured in the tens of billions (second only to Exxon), $1 million is pocket lint. As with so much of California’s regulation of mega-businesses, such fines are baked into the cost of doing business. They have zero deterrent effect.

The Cal-OSHA fines were for Chevron’s carelessness and lax oversight at its Richmond. CA refinery–leading to a a burst pipe, a huge fire and a toxic smoke cloud that sickened thousands of residents in and around the Richmond, CA, refinery last August. Chevron also dithered and delayed a shutdown for more than two hours after finding the leak, guaranteeing a conflagration.

The blaze starkly illustrated how the energy industry and other polluters evade regulation and play off one regulator against another. The regulators sit in their little silos of fractured authority, disclaiming responsibility for this disaster or that disaster.

Chevron, as the fine was issued, also listed how it would make the aged Richmond refinery safer in the future. The list is a joke–it promises not one cent in capital spending to upgrade and make safer the parts of the plant that didn’t burn down. All of the promises amount to “we’ll keep a closer eye on things.” Keep in mind as you read that Chevron’s inspections and safety training, before the August fire, were considered state of the art in the industry.

Chevron said it was:

  • 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 being applied throughout our 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.

Judy DuganThat all sounds like more of the same, vulnerable to the same human error, reluctance to shut down and cost-cutting that led to the August disaster.The badly corroded pipe that burst, for instance, was skipped in a Nov. 2011 inspection of the unit destroyed by the fire. The deliberate omission was in violation of Chevron’s own safety policies.

Chevron will obviously have to replace the pipes (and everything else) in the processing unit that failed. But even that is in question–the new pipes that Chevron insists it will usewill use are the same as the piping that corroded at a BP refinery in Washington State, leading to a similar huge blaze that shut down the refinery. Richmond’s City Council, which has  final say over how Chevron does its repairs, is largely staying out of the dispute between Chevron and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board over the pipe replacements.

Could it be because Chevron spent $1.2 millon on the city’s municipal municipal election last November, putting two of the three candidates it backed onto the council and fighting off progressive candidates? The company is also pouring millions into pet projects for city leaders.

There are endless ways that a company the size of Chevron can spend relative pennies in order to keep all of its billions in profits. Fines make more economic sense than upgrades. Building parks and meddling in local elections is cheaper than protecting the overall health and safety of local citizens. Spending more millions on state officials and elections is also cheaper than suffering coordinated official scrutiny.

California’s governor and Legislature could easily improve both safety and consumer protection with some reasonable changes:

  • Put oversight and regulation of oil refineries under a single independent body, funded through a tax on oil extraction.
  • Give the regulator the power and funding to inspect refineries regularly and follow up frequently to ensure that violations are fixed.
  • Require refineries to stagger routine maintenance shutdowns in order to prevent spikes in gasoline prices, and oversee routine shutdowns to ensure that they are not dragged out for financial reasons.
  • Require that refiners keep about three weeks’ worth of gasoline in stock to ease price spikes after events like the Richmond fire. This could include stronger oversight of refiners’ exports outside the U.S.

Sounds pretty simple. But Chevron, Exxon and friends see such regulation as interfering in their freedom to profit. Gov. Jerry Brown could lead the reforms above and probably win with major public backing. It’s all a matter of whether anyone, even Brown, will stand up to the oil industry. Early on, he didn’t show much backbone. But with the economy recovering slowly and the state’s debt looking more manageable, the still-popular Brown could successfully lead the charge to make refiners operate safely and in the public interest.


Posted by Judy Dugan, research director emeritus for Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing an effective voice for taxpayers and consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

Senators Add Fire to Scandal Over Phony California Fuel Crisis


Today, senators from California, Washington and Oregon joined our call to investigate refineries, asking the Department of Justice to comb through California refineries one by one to see whether market manipulation or false reporting by oil refineries had something to do with record $5 a gallon prices at some California gas stations last month and near record prices earlier in the year.

Read our letter to California Attorney General Kamala Harris here.

“We are requesting a Department of Justice investigation of possible market manipulation and false reporting by oil refineries which may have created the perception of a supply shortage, when in fact refineries were still producing,” wrote six Senators, including California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

The Senators cited the same report we did by McCullough Research concluding that price spikes in May and October happened while crude oil prices were declining, and inventories were increasing, possibly in conjunction with misleading market-making information.

The Senators called on Attorney General Eric Holder to use existing authority to prevent and prosecute fraud and collusion, and to draw upon the Federal Trade Commission to prohibit fraud or deceit in wholesale petroleum markets, and on the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to exercise their power to prevent the use of any “manipulative or deceptive device or contrivance.”

Read the Senators’ entire letter here.

Consumer Watchdog wrote California Attorney General Kamala Harris on November 15 calling for a criminal investigation of possible market manipulation or false reporting by refineries to drive up the price of gas to the highest in the nation, based on the McCullough report.  

Between the Justice Department and its collaboration with other agencies in Washington and the California Attorney General on the West Coast, consumers should be getting some answers about why wild gyrations in the price of gas cost them $1 billion dollars extra in a short span of time in October, adding up to a 66-cent-per-gallon windfall for oil companies, or about $25 million a day, according to the McCullough report.

Refueling California


$5-a-gallon gas is a wake-up call. Let’s change the way oil companies operate here.

How can a power outage at a refinery spark $5-a-gallon gasoline at some L.A. stations? Why would the fact that California had to switch to the winter-blend fuel at the end of October – a fact known all year – raise gasoline prices to record levels?

This price surge is not a freak phenomenon or the result of a convergence of refinery problems, as the oil industry has argued. It’s happened before (only the $5 level is new) and will happen again and again because California oil companies can make more money by making less gasoline.

California’s under-regulated gasoline market resembles our briefly deregulated electricity grid during 2000-01, when energy pirates such as Enron manipulated prices. Why? The market is geared to shortages and scarcity. So when an inevitable problem occurs to shock the system, such as a refinery outage or pipeline problem, gasoline prices and company profits go through the roof in tandem.

The state’s gasoline, the lifeblood of our economy, is priced by an under-regulated commodities market largely controlled by a handful of companies. Over the last decade, Californians have consistently paid prices that are 10 to 20 cents a gallon higher than the rest of the nation, and we have lower inventories. The rest of the continental U.S. has about 24 days of gasoline on hand; California’s average is 10 to 13 days. Not surprisingly, over the last 10 years, refineries on the West Coast consistently have been among the most profitable in the continental U.S.

Memos from West Coast oil refiners from the 1990s and released years ago by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) suggest that this is a deliberate business strategy. An internal Chevron memo, for example, stated: “A senior energy analyst at the recent API [American Petroleum Institute] convention warned that if the U.S. petroleum industry doesn’t reduce its refining capacity, it will never see any substantial increase in refinery margins.” It then discussed how major refiners were closing down refineries. Oil company profit reports show each dramatic gasoline price spike over the last decade has been mirrored by a corresponding corporate profit spike.

This situation is well known to policymakers in California. About a decade ago, after some sharp, unexpected price hikes, then-Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer formed a gas pricing task force that included industry experts and me. We viewed industry documents and cross-examined industry representatives. Among the conclusions: “Supply disruptions that contributed to major price spikes of 1999 are likely to continue … because (1) California refiners have little spare capacity to cover outages; (2) California refiners maintain relatively low inventory levels.” The report also noted: “Refiners have significant market control.”

The task force recommended a series of measures, including building a strategic gasoline reserve that could flood the market when supply is most scarce. But the Legislature didn’t listen. And now we are near 5 bucks a gallon.

There’s a simple policy fix to the gasoline woes in California: more regulation and less consolidation.

If the state doesn’t have the wherewithal to build a strategic gasoline reserve, a simple requirement that refiners keep at least three weeks of inventory on hand will do.

Rapid oil company consolidation has also been a driver of high gas prices. A handful of refiners control 14 state refineries. It had gotten so ludicrous that in 2005, my consumer group teamed up with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Lockyer and succeeded in getting Shell Oil to reverse its decision to bulldoze its Bakersfield refinery, and to instead sell it. Internal documents showed that the refinery was making among the highest profits of all Shell refineries. That indicated the company wanted to make supplies even tighter, driving prices artificially higher.

The greatest challenge for competition may be ahead. Tesoro is seeking to buy the low-cost Arco brand and its California assets from BP. More than 800 stations carry the Arco brand. If state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris and federal regulators approve the merger, two refiners – Chevron and Tesoro – will control 51% of the refining capacity in the state. That would be like writing a blank check from California drivers to the oil industry.

Let’s hope that $5-a-gallon gasoline is a wake-up call that came in time to head off greater refinery consolidation and higher prices. Fourteen refineries now power the world’s ninth-largest economy. It’s time Sacramento stepped in to keep them running at full speed, producing enough inventory to fuel the state, and from falling into even fewer corporate hands.

Jamie Court is the president of Consumer Watchdog and author of “The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell: How to Win Grassroots Campaigns, Pass Ballot Box Laws and Get the Change We Voted For.”

First printed in the October 12, 2012 edition of the Los Angeles Times

Which is the Worst Oil Company of them All?

There are so many ways to assess which oil company is truly the worst of the worst. It also depends on the day. You’ve got ExxonMobil who not only caused the infamous oil spill at Alaska’s Prince William Sound but is also one of the world’s biggest funders of the global warming denial campaign. You’ve got BP –who not only caused the greatest man-made environmental disaster in history, but negotiated a settlement that does not properly compensate the victims of the spill. Still, in California, it’s hard to compete with Chevron.

If you watched the Republican National Convention and/or the Democratic National Convention, you probably saw endless Chevron greenwashing commercials. If you listen to the radio on your way to work, their advertisements run on every major station. Their "We Agree" campaign focuses on making them seem like a socially responsible business trying to do right for America. Yes, they care about profits, but their business is really all about helping everyday people meet their energy needs. Oh, and don’t worry about their fracking operations –they would never try to extract natural gas unless it was completely safe and foolproof. Um… right. In Chevron We Trust.

But what makes Chevron truly heinous is all of the campaigning they try to do outside of the public view. Unbeknownst to the public, Chevron (along with their pro-corporate allies) spend millions of dollars every election cycle to attack pro-environmental, progressive candidates. For the last decade, CLCV and our allies in the California Alliance have successfully defended our candidates and defeated theirs in no small part by revealing to voters who exactly is funding the opposition campaign. Guess what? Voters don’t like it when Big Oil, Big Tobacco, Big Insurance, and Wall Street Banksters try to buy an election. But while we’re successful about 75% of the time, Chevron and its allies still win 25% of their campaigns and have refined their tactics to be more deceptive and tough to beat.

Overtime, these large corporations have created PACs with innocuous sounding names mislead voters into thinking they’re something other than large corporate front groups. This includes groups like JobsPAC, the California Now Independent Expenditure PAC (which is often confused with the respected California National Organization of Women [NOW] PAC), California Alliance for Progress & Education (which sounds much like us and our partners’ California Alliance), Californians for Jobs and a Strong Economy, and the Alliance for California’s Tomorrow, which is primarily funded by health insurance companies.

For your convenience, I've linked all of their Secretary of State Campaign Disclosure pages, so you can see exactly who funds these groups. The first thing you may notice is that they're not funded by individuals and they tend to receive money from each other. Why? Because these groups allow a corporation like Chevron to contribute money to one PAC, and then have it transferred elsewhere from that PAC to another so that when voters receive mail from Alliance for California's Tomorrow and go to research who funded the PAC, all they see are contributors that have other innocuous sounding names completely unaware of what entities are behind it all.

The newest front group is called the California Senior Advocates League. You may be surprised to learn that it has nothing to do with seniors. The Ventura County Star’s Timm Herdt has been particularly focused on revealing just how deceptive a group this is:

If you think a group with a name like that is concerned about Medicare, think again. It's an outfit funded by the National Association of Realtors, Chevron, Philip Morris, Anthem Blue Cross, the California Chamber of Commerce and others. It focuses on state legislative races, and attempting to track its money is no easy task.

I sought to do so during the primary election campaign, and found myself doing a maneuver I called the "Chevron Four Step." It went like this: Chevron gives $375,000 to JobsPAC, which then gives $250,000 to the California Now Independent Expenditure Committee, which then gives $220,000 to the California Senior Advocates League, which then spends $400,000 on state Senate races.

As always, we have our work cut out for us to fight back and campaign for our candidates, but all of this stresses just how badly we need real campaign finance reform. Even Assemblymember Julia Brownley’s Disclose Act, which would have required improved campaign contribution disclosures met heavy opposition that lobbied hard to kill the bill in the legislature. Ten guesses who some of the bills biggest opponents were.

Did ‘Don’t Shut It Down’ Mentality Cause Chevron Refinery Disaster?

More than two hours passed at Chevron’s Richmond, CA, refinery between the discovery of a leak and the ignition of a blaze that threatened the health of thousands of nearby residents and sent hundreds to hospital emergency rooms Monday night. At any point during those hours, shutting down the big crude-oil processing unit in which a pipe was leaking could have prevented or greatly limited the disaster.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported details of that excruciating delay Wednesday morning, along with very different accounts of why it happened. The plant’s emergency response managers vaguely said they saw the leak as too minor–just “20 drops a minute” at first, to trigger an emergency or notify anyone. Until, of course, it suddenly got bigger and exploded into a blaze. But workers on the ground saw it differently and told their story to their union’s safety experts:


“From the time they did see the leak, they debated what to do,” said Kim Nibarger, who has investigated refinery accidents nationwide. “It was not so much whether to fix the leak, it was about what could they do to keep the line running and get it fixed.”

Nibarger based his opinion on Monday’s incident after discussions with union representatives at the refinery. The choice, he said, should have been clear.

“When you have hydrocarbons outside the pipe, you are no longer running at a normal condition. It’s time to shut the thing off and fix it, not to try to figure out a way around it.”

The last big fire at the Chevron Richmond refinery, in 2007, started the same way: a leak in the same refining unit, No. 4. Two employees were injured and the refinery was shut for months.

What one local resident said in 2007 sounds like it was today:

“Once those [emergency] sirens sound, you are supposed to shelter in place,” [the resident] said. “That means nobody goes to work, nobody comes to work in the west end of Richmond and no schools open. The cost of that is incredible.”

The costs of shutting down a refining unit to be on the safe side are nothing compared to the costs of shutting down a community, of treating respiratory crises at the emergency room, of higher child asthma rates.

Motorists will also pay. San Francisco and Los Angeles wholesale gasoline prices jumped 30 cents a gallon overnight following Monday’s fire. If recent history is any guide, other West Coast refiners will just grab the extra profit rather than raising production to keep supplies up and prices down. That’s exactly what happened after a major refinery accident in Washington State last year, according to a study commissioned by Sen. Maria Cantwell.

So all Californians will pay something for Chevron’s attempt to keep Unit 4 running even though its own emergency response team knew about the leak.

Safety procedures are also at issue in Chevron’s offhore drilling near Brazil, where 155,000 gallons of oil leaked from undersea cracks. Brazil last month accused Chevron of failing to follow its own procedural manual and dismissing troubling test results when it started production from the well. Chevron is also continuing to pay its lawyers millions of dollars to avoid paying damages to Ecuadoran peasants whose land was ruined by Texaco, which is now part of Chevron.

Chevron is not alone in this mindset.

BP ignored safety and quality questions about sealing cement used to cap a deep offshore well in the Gulf of Mexico two years ago, when it could have ordered the cement contractor, Halliburton, to start over (meaning at least a few days of delay). We all know how well that went. BP also skimped on maintenance and ignored corrosion of its Alaska pipeline near Prudhoe Bay in a 2006 spill of 200,000 gallons that shut down the pipeline. Exxon let a known drunk pilot its giant oil tanker, the Exxon Valdez.

It’s a long list. But the common thread is that safety is not a profit center for the oil industry and every penny spent on safety dings the bottom line. Until, of course, cleaning up the mess costs millions or billions.

Posted by Judy Dugan, research director for Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing an effective voice for taxpayers and consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

Chevron Leads Effort to Buy Election for Oily Tom in AD-69

Oily corporate money is flowing into an Orange County Assembly race, as Late Independent Expenditures push the fortunes of DINO “Oily Tom” Daly.

The primary vehicle is JOBSPAC, A BI-PARTISAN COALITION OF CALIFORNIA EMPLOYERS, which spent a whopping $291,578.25 between May 5th and May 19th to support ConservaDem Tom Daly, County Clerk Recorder and former Anaheim Mayor in AD-69, which is the only majority Democratic district in Orange County.

Daly is in the mold of other OC “Democrats” like Lou Correa, squarely in the pocket of developers, insurance companies and the local corporate giants like Disney. Daly got all of three votes in the party’s pre-endorsement caucus, no votes at the DFA endorsement meeting, scant support at the Orange County Young Democrats endorsement meeting, yet was able to block progressive candidate Julio Perez from getting the party endorsement as local electeds Correa and Solorio voted for no endorsement.

The biggest player in JOBS PAC is Chevron, which contributed $375,000 of the $524,000 raised in the second half of 2011. Chevron also contributed the maximum direcly to Daly’s campaign, but Daly’s anemic fund-raising obviously wasn’t going to be enough to buy this election. Chevron has been joined by some of the usual dirty suspects who have pressing issues in front of the legislature. Phillip Morris kicked in $50,000. Farmers Insurance has arrived late to the party with $150,000 contributed last week. The California Charter Schools Association PAC pumped in  $25,000 last week.

There’s plenty of late money that we expect to see spent in negative mail against Julio Perez, the progressive candidate in the most Latino district in the state. Julio may be the most dangerous threat to corporate interests on the ballot. He’s a labor organizer who is smart, well-educated, and avowedly progressive, earning support not just from teachers, nurses, and firefighters, but also from groups like the California League of Conservation Voters.

Julio is supported by a small army of grass roots volunteers, an Independent Expenditure campaign by organized labor, and every local progressive, while Daly gets his local support from Disney’s SOAR PAC, the staunchly right-wing OC Tax group, and the Orange County Business Council.

The JobsPAC campaign has been working with Big Lies, including a mailer to Republicans alleging that the sole Republican candidate has dropped out of the race.

Chevron has also supported unemployed Santa Ana Council Member Michele Martinez, a somewhat clueless candidate best known for her inadvertent interview on a train from Sacramento where she boasted of big forthcoming IE’s by Indian casinos. If the top two result comes down to Martinez vs Daly, Chevron and their corporate cronies win big.

It’s the ugly side of the top-two primary, and it’s what the corporate interests hoped for when they campaigned for it. Spend big to take out any progressive, and be happy with a true corporate candidate or someone who can easily be bought.

Update Today’s reports show another $117,000 in Late Independent Expenditures supporting Tom Daly, this time with the bulk of the money coming from the National Realtors Political Action Committee funneled through their California affiliate.

Greg Diamond at the Orange Juice Blog writes

“The National Association of Realtors out of Chicago,” I hear you ask, because you are the kind of reader who wants to know who is jumping into our local races with the force of a herd of elephants, “who are they?”  I’m glad you asked!  It’s the trade association that has, literally, trademarked the term “Realtor” in this country.  (In other countries, it’s a generic term.)  What’s their political issue?  They want to boost the housing market by – wait for it – opposing regulation of the financial services industry!

That’s right – these are the people who don’t want to solve the problems of the collapse of the poorly regulated financial sector (and its mortgage fraud and foreclosure abuse, about which they might know a little themselves), and they way they want to do it is to dump literally $250,000 so far into making sure (if they can – and they can’t) that Tom Daly beats Julio Perez for a single Assembly seat.

Beware of for-profit slate mailers that claim to represent ‘green’ positions

Union of Concerned Scientists Warns CA Voters about Misleading Slate Mailer and ‘Trojan Horse’ Attack Against State’s Clean Energy Law; Urges Voters to Vote NO on 26

With most voters’ attention diverted by the oil industry’s efforts to derail the state’s landmark clean energy and climate law with Proposition 23, another, less scrutinized oil-industry-funded ballot measure–Proposition 26–also poses a serious threat to the environment and clean energy.

Proposition 26 has received nearly $16 million from Chevron and other big oil companies, as well as alcohol and tobacco interests, to get themselves off the hook from paying for environmental and health damage they cause and shift that burden to taxpayers.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is alerting California voters to beware of misleading ‘slate mailers’ arriving in their mailboxes just before the November 2 election. UCS strongly urges a ‘NO’ vote on Prop. 23 and Prop. 26.

“While Prop 23 is a frontal assault on our clean energy law, Prop 26 is more like a Trojan horse,” said Dan Kalb, UCS California policy manager. “As deceptive as the Prop 23 campaign has been, the campaign to pass Prop 26 is even more insidious. Not only do the oil and tobacco companies behind Prop 26 hide the fact that it would starve state and local public health, clean air, and clean energy programs, but now they are funding misleading slate mailers that misinform voters about what the pro-environment position really is on Prop 26.  The pro-environment position on Prop 26 is a definite NO.”

Voters have already begun receiving a for-profit mailer with the headline “Californians Vote Green” recommending votes on Props 25 (no) and 26 (yes) that are the opposite of what the state’s leading public health and environmental organizations recommend.  UCS and several other leading environmental and consumer groups strongly support Prop. 25 and oppose Prop. 26.

“This pay-to-play ‘green’ mailer sinks to new lows when it comes to false advertising,” said Kalb.


Proposition 26, which is vague and poorly written, threatens California’s efforts to bolster green jobs by cleaning up the state’s energy supply and cutting global warming pollution.  According to UCS, if passed, Proposition 26 could:

~ Prevent the California Air Resources Board from collecting a fee from polluters to fund CARB and other agencies implementing policies to reach the state’s 2020 global warming emission-reduction target. Those policies include standards for renewable energy and low-carbon fuel.

~ Prevent CARB from levying fees on global warming pollution as part of an economy-wide cap on emissions.

~ Eliminate funding streams for public transportation, crippling implementation of SB 375, which is designed to help Californians drive less, pollute less, and spend less money on gas.

Proposition 26 threatens California’s clean energy and climate laws by oddly redefining taxes, Kalb explained.  Under current law, the state and municipal governments have the authority to impose narrowly-defined fees on industries whose activities harm public health or the environment and then use that revenue to correct and prevent those harms, as long as the amount of the fee bears a reasonable relationship to the harm.

Fees require a simple majority to pass in the Legislature, while taxes require a two-thirds super-majority vote. Proposition 26 would redefine fees as taxes, establishing a nearly impossible hurdle that could dry up funding for CARB and local governments to implement vital energy and environmental clean-up programs.

“If Californians want to support a clean environment and vibrant economy in California, they should vote ‘NO’ on Props 23 and 26,” said Erin Rogers, manager of the Western States Climate and Energy Program at UCS. “If passed, these measures won’t just put the brakes on California’s clean energy laws, they will send a message to businesses, entrepreneurs and investors in the state’s booming clean tech sector that California is no longer open for business. That’s a rotten deal, especially considering that clean tech is one of the only bright spots our state’s economy.”