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LPG Spheres - Another Chevron Rubber Stamp Project?
June 3, 2002

Tomorrow, on June 4, 2002, the Richmond City Council will consider an appeal of the Planning Commission approval on May 2, 2002, of a Conditional Use Permit CU 01-30 and Design Review approval DR 01-90 for two new 30,000 barrel liquefied petroleum gas spheres at the Chevron Refinery.

So far, this project has, as is traditional in Richmond, skated through public review process with only a negative declaration lubricated by Chevron’s standard contention that “… there are no significant impacts from construction and operation [of the spheres].”[1]

The City of Richmond staff, as usual, can’t work hard enough to agree with Chevron and has pushed this project through the regulatory process as fast as [their interpretation of] the law allows.

According to the Initial Study:

“Propane, mixed butanes and mixed pentanes (and combinations thereof) are currently stored in pressurized LPG spheres at the refinery’s sphere farm. It is identified as a hazardous material because it is flammable and presents a fire/explosion hazard.”

The Risk Management Plan (RMP) current worst case scenario (WCS) for the LPG tank farm with individual sphere capacities of 20,000 barrels has a 1.3 mile radius. With expansion to tanks with 30,000 barrels, the radius expands to 1.5 miles, an area inhabited by 6,467 people.[2]  The consultant preparing the Initial Study dismisses this fact by saying: “… the EPA has stated that distance to endpoint estimated under worst case conditions should not be considered a zone in which the public (in this case, those living within 1.5 miles of the sphere farm) is in danger.”[3]

Incidentally, the General Chemical Release of 1993, which according even to the State Bar of California, “affected some 80,000 mostly poor residents of Contra Costa County,” had an impact well outside the Worst Case Scenario (WCS) 3.1 mile radius. Despite the EPA soft peddling of WCS, we know it could very well happen.

Additionally, neither the consultants nor the City staff has discussed Chevron’s abysmal record of accidents. For example, during the years 1999-2000, Chevron had six major accidents. Chevron was the worst refinery in Contra Costa County for recurring problems, with a total of 33 incidents involving the same four units. Fourteen serious incidents occurred at Chevron’s FCC unit alone. Twelve serious incidents occurred at a related unit, the Isomax.

Furthermore, the LPG tank farm expansion is part of a larger refinery redesign to accommodate the MTBE phaseout and therefore requires a full EIR under CEQA, not just a negative declaration. While we are all glad to see MTBE phased out statewide, one wonders how fair it is to do it on the backs of Richmond citizens, the most exposed and vulnerable of which are economically disadvantaged and consist of persons of color.

What Richmond deserves is a full study of the environmental impacts of this project followed by mitigations that will reduce risks in other areas or compensate Richmond citizens for the risks they are assuming so other Californians can live healthier lives.

What can you do? Contact your City Council members in the next 24 hours and let them know how you feel.

[1] Letter dated February 2, 202, from R.E. Zalesky of Chevron to The Honorable Irma L. Anderson, Mayor and Members of the City Council.

[2] Initial Study, Chevron LPG Spheres Project, prepared by Lamphier-Gregory, August 2001, 39

[3] ibid