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Media Coverage
Chevron Considers Oversight
March 30, 1999



Tuesday, March 30, 1999
Section: news
Page: A03
Shawn Masten and Chuck Squatriglia

RICHMOND Chevron has approached the city about a possible agreement that would allow city officials to regulate safety at the Richmond refinery in the wake of Thursday's explosion and fire at the facility.

Richmond officials, including Mayor Rosemary Corbin, said Chevron is hoping to fight back calls for Contra Costa County to assume safety oversight of the refinery.

Chevron's Richmond facility is the only one of four refineries in Contra Costa that isn't covered by the county's industrial safety ordinance. Councilman Tom Butt has led efforts to have the city adopt the county's ordinance, and tonight he will introduce a resolution to begin the process for adopting the plan.

"Chevron has talked to us about the possibility of the city doing something. That doesn't mean the city will do what Chevron wants," Corbin said.

Since the explosion and fire, a host of politicians have called on Richmond to adopt a more stringent safety ordinance. Though Richmond has jurisdiction over the plant, the City Council has never passed legislation giving the city authority to inspect the plant for safety.

Specific details of Chevron's proposal are still unclear, city officials said, and it's possible the plan will be pitched at tonight's council meeting.

"We're just looking at sketchy outlines of a cooperative agreement between Chevron and the city that hopefully will give the city some of the assurances and procedures that they would get from the (county) ordinance," said Terry Swartz, a Chevron spokesman. "We're trying to avoid a knee-jerk overreaction by some of the forces in Richmond that want to pass something before we've even identified what went wrong."

Supervisor John Gioia, who represents West County, said he wants the city to adopt the county's ordinance because it would cover all of the industrial plants in the city not just Chevron. But he praised Chevron for making the effort.

"I think Chevron should be commended for voluntarily agreeing to regulation by Richmond," Gioia said.

Chevron will offer the first word today on what sparked Thursday's refinery explosion when it announces early findings of its accident investigation. County officials said they expect no significant revelations.

The refinery has until 5 p.m. to give county health authorities a preliminary report of the probe and vowed Monday to meet that deadline. The report could offer the first glimpse of what caused a cloud of vapors to catch fire, sparking an explosion that shook houses and blanketed the region in smoke.

County authorities do not expect Chevron's report to offer much information on the accident because investigators were still waiting Monday to examine the blast site, said Tracy Hein-Silva, spokeswoman for the county Hazardous Materials Division.

Chevron officials concede they don't know much. Refinery officials said Friday that they suspect a leaking pipe or valve caused the blast but didn't know what might have caused such a leak or sparked the explosion.

Cal-OSHA announced its own investigation Monday. The agency typically steps aside if no one is killed or seriously injured in an accident, but agency spokesman Dean Fryer said the magnitude of Thursday's blast demands a closer look.

The blast occurred about 2:30 p.m. in a hydrocracker, which removes impurities from crude oil. Gasoline and jet fuel burned for more than two hours, blanketing the area in cloud of thick, black smoke. Firefighters did not quell the last flames until Saturday night, officials said.