Chevron Slammed for Plans to Store Explosive Gas

Chevron Richmond Refinery has illegally avoided environmental review of its plans to build storage tanks for highly explosive liquid petroleum gas (LPG), said Oakland-based Communities for a Better Environment (CBE).
CBE, which made the complaint in a July lawsuit in Contra Costa County Superior Court, is targeting a Richmond City Council permit for Chevron’s two proposed 30,000-gallon storage LPG “spheres.” They are comparable to one that exploded in Mexico in 1984, killing 500 people, said Fred Millar, a toxics consultant contributing to the CBE suit. A court hearing is set for August 5.
The potential impact of an LPG explosion increases when multiple LPG storage facilities are close to each other, as the Richmond spheres would be. The spheres would sit within a mile of the predominantly low-income African-American, Latino, and Asian neighborhood of North Richmond.
“That community is on the front line of the chemical assault,” said the West County Toxics Coalition’s Henry Clark, who said he would see the spheres from his backyard. “Richmond is caving into Chevron’s interests and not being consistent with [its 1999] principles of environmental justice.”
Under California’s Reformulated Gasoline Requirements, Phase Three (RFG3), effective December 31, 2002, refineries must eliminate the additive MTBE, replace it with the oxygenate ethanol, and reduce sulfur levels, among other requirements. If Chevron’s new spheres are part of a larger RFG3 project, state law would require an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). Similar RFG3-related projects are undergoing an EIR at Chevron’s El Segundo refinery, according to public records.
Chevron Richmond denies their spheres are part of that process.
But CBE says the company is breaking its RFG3 project into small parts to avoid doing a costly EIR and mitigation, violating the California Environmental Quality Act.
In an initial study for the spheres, Chevron said that it would be phasing in ethanol, “to comply with new California gasoline regulations,” and that that process would “increase the refinery’s need for LPG storage,” a move that would require an EIR.
But in a July interview, Chevron Richmond spokesman Dean O’Hair flip-flopped, claiming the spheres are simply part of the refinery’s plan to reduce dependence on railway cars for LPG storage. Despite that claim, O’Hair told Terrain that Chevron would not stop using the cars to store LPG, even once the spheres are in use.
Over the past two years, Chevron Richmond has applied for at least 12 permits that appear to add up to work needed for the RFG3, CBE said.
Chevron Richmond had originally denied its plans to build an ethanol-blending facility, crucial to the RFG process.
“There’s a letter that says that there would be no ethanol in the refinery at all,” said Richmond City Council member Tom Butt, who opposed the permit. “Then, simultaneous [to that], they have an application to put in an ethanol-blending facility in the refinery. They said, ‘well it’s not in the refinery, it’s next to the refinery.’”
O’Hair now acknowledges that the ethanol-blending facility would help the company “meet the oxygenate requirement,” but denied that it is related to RFG3 — even though oxygenate-adding is part of RFG3.
“We want them to produce cleaner gas,” said CBE’s Adriene Bloch, “[but] we want to see all parts of the project so that we can see the impacts, and [ensure] the appropriate mitigations.”

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