posted by Laird Harrison, Jon Brooks, Dan Brekke

Chevron has put out a clarification of an earlier statement the company made about when and what it told air quality regulators about past emissions at a Richmond refinery that were illegally routed through an unmonitored pipe.

The controversy about the pipe centers on whether the company was intentionally evading air monitors. The company says it wasn’t, but the failure to monitor is the subject of a criminal investigation by the EPA.

The San Francisco Chronicle broke the story on Sept 22, reporting that Chevron had “detoured pollutants around monitoring equipment” to a flare at the refinery. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District fined the oil company $170,000 for failing to monitor the pipe’s emissions, the Chron revealed.

The story prompted Chevron to write a letter of complaint to the Chronicle, which it made public. The oil giant said the story inaccurately portrayed the company as intentionally creating the pipe to avoid the monitoring equipment. Chevron said the pipe had actually existed before the monitoring regulations were put into place in 2004.

We noted one big discrepancy between the Chronicle report and what Chevron said in its letter. In the letter, Chevron wrote that “when Chevron installed six flow meters to comply with the regulation, we did not recognize the need for a meter on this line and we advised BAAQMD of this issue three years ago and remedied it then.” (Emphasis ours).

That was interpreted by many media outlets, and everyone who read it in this newsroom, as a claim by Chevron that it had taken the initiative in telling the air quality district about the pipe. And that contradicted what BAAQMD manager Wayne Kino told both the Chronicle and KQED: He said it was district inspectors who uncovered the issue and brought it to the attention of Chevron.

On Friday, Chevron spokesperson Sean Comey clarified this discrepancy, writing in a comment on this blog that “We did not intend to convey that we initially brought this matter to the attention of BAAQMD.” Here’s the rest of what he posted:

I write on behalf of Chevron U.S.A. Inc to clarify an evident misinterpretation of fact in our recent statement responding to the San Francisco Chronicle’s flare monitoring article. As we correctly stated, the pipe at issue was part of a safety system installed in 2003 — prior to BAAMQD’s (sic) flare monitoring regulations. In 2009 we advised BAAMQD that we did not recognize the need for a meter on this line and that the resulting by-pass — properly characterized by BAAMQD as ‘fairly small’ — was inadvertent.

We did not intend to convey that we initially brought this matter to the attention of BAAMQD. The reported statement by BAAMQD Manager Wayne Kino is absolutely correct in this regard.

BAAQMD personnel working on site at the refinery first identified the problem, then we worked cooperatively with them to gather the necessary information to find out what happened and why and how to take appropriate action to fix it. Thank you for the opportunity to clarify this point.

So…if we interpret this correctly, when Chevron officials wrote to the Chron that “we advised BAAQMD of this issue three years ago,” they did not mean that they proactively reported the infraction, as Mr. Comey acknowledges above. The “issue” they “advised BAAQMD” of, as cited in the Chron letter, was the issue of them “not recognizing the need for a meter on this line.”

Got it?

We wanted to clarify the clarification with Mr. Comey, but he said Chevron had nothing to add to the posted comment.

Chevron Clarifies It Did Not Inform Regulators First About Unmonitored Pipe 28 September,2012KQED News Staff

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