Fire highlights pollution concerns at California refinery

Jason Dearen / The Associated Press /

SAN FRANCISCO — A massive Chevron oil refinery fire that sent hundreds of people rushing to hospitals and is pushing West Coast gas prices higher was just the latest pollution incident at the facility that records show has increasingly violated air quality rules over the past five years.

The Chevron oil refinery is one of three such facilities near San Francisco that rank among the state’s top 10 emitters of toxic chemicals, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxic Release Inventory.

Chevron’s Richmond refinery — the scene of Monday’s fire that shrouded the area in black smoke — has been cited by San Francisco Bay area regulators for violating air regulations 93 times in the past five years.

The number has increased from 15 violations in 2007 to 23 in both 2010 and 2011. The refinery is also the state’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, according to state regulators.

The Richmond refinery produces about 150,000 barrels of gasoline a day — or 16 percent of the region’s daily gasoline consumption of 963,000 barrels, said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service.

With inventories of gasoline in the region already low compared with the rest of the country, pump prices on the West Coast will soon average more than $4 a gallon, Kloza said.

This week’s disruption in production quickly sent the price of a gallon of regular gasoline in California up 3 cents, said analyst Patrick DeHaan of the website GasBuddy.com.

Investigations continued Wednesday into Chevron’s response to the fire and the effectiveness of Contra Costa County’s emergency warning system.