Chevron Convicted of Labor Code Violations, Will Pay $2M After Refinery Fire

A fire ravaged the Richmond, Calif., refinery last year. Investigators blamed a corroded pipe.

Chevron USA pleaded no contest to six misdemeanors and agreed to pay $2 million in restitution and fines on Monday – one day shy of its one-year anniversary of the Bay Area refinery fire last August.

Chevron entered the plea in Contra Costa County Superior Court after charges were filed by the California Attorney General's Office and the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office.

In a statement, District Attorney Mark Peterson called the labor and health code convictions a "historic resolution."

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The charges were labor and health code violations (PDF) and included failing to correct deficiencies in equipment and failing to require the use of certain equipment to protect employees from potential harm.

No one died in the Aug. 6 fire at the Richmond, Calif. refinery. But thousands of people went to the hospital, many complaining of respiratory problems when a flammable fluid was vaporized and "engulfed" 19 Chevron employees at the time, prosecutors described. Investigators blamed it on a corroded pipe.

After the agreement was announced, Chevron also issued a statement: "We are committed to continuous improvement in process safety and reliability at the refinery."

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In a separate email, Chevron spokeswoman Melissa Ritchie said that these charges are separate from the city of Richmond's lawsuit filed last week regarding the same fire.

In that civil suit, filed Friday, the 39-page complaint accuses the oil company of "willful and conscious disregard of public safety." It alleges the explosion and blaze at the California Bay Area refinery resulted from "years of neglect, lax oversight and corporate indifference to necessary safety inspection and repairs."

RAW VIDEO: Chevron Refinery Erupts in Fire

Regarding the criminal case in Contra Costa County, part of the agreement requires Chevron to inspect every piece of pipe that might be subject to sulfidation corrosion and requires the company to make "substantial changes" to its business practices.

Specifically, Chevron pleaded no contest to charges including: Failing to correct deficiencies in equipment and continuing to use equipment which was outside acceptable limits, failing to prevent non-emergency personnel from entering emergency area, and failing to implement injury prevention program. Also, the company was convicted of two violations of negligent emission of air contaminants.

PHOTOS: Chevron Refinery Catches Fire

Of the $2 million Chevron was ordered to pay, $1.28 million are considered fines, $575,000 will go to Cal/OSHA, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the California Department of Justice. Chevron will also be required to contribute $145,000 to Richmond BUILD, a public-private partnership helping train workers in renewable energy fields.

NBC Bay Area's Jodi Hernandez  contributed to this report.

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