A criminal investigation of Chevron is underway after the US Environmental Protection Agency learned that pollutants were being routed around monitoring equipment and then burned, releasing pollutants in the atmosphere at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, CA reports The Associated Press.
The burning of the pollutants for the last four years could be a “possible violation of a federal court order,” The San Francisco Chroniclereports.
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District say Chevron had designed a pipe inside the refinery which routed the hydrocarbon gasses past monitoring equipment and then allowed the gases to be burned off without informing officials.
It cannot be known how much of the gases escaped into the air because the company kept no records. Investigators are unable to determine how much pollution the thousands of people who live downwind from the refinery have been exposed to.
According to numerous environmental groups, residual gasses from the ultra heated crude oil, which generates fuels, poses a risk of respiratory ailments as well as risks of cancer.
The criminal investigation began early in 2012. Investigators from the EPA are interviewing employees to see who knew what the company was doing and how much they knew.
The probe is not in relation to the August 6 refinery fire which greatly reduced production at one of the nation’s largest refineries. A huge spike in gas prices resulted from the refinery fires.
From April 2005 until August 2009, the company used the pipe bypass 27 times. Chevron agreed to a settlement in 2011, in which it paid $170,000 in fines for two violations.
Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia posed whether Chevron intended to mislead regulators, which leads to questions about the company’s credibility:
“That’s a criminal act, intentionally bypassing the monitoring. The rule is designed to reduce flaring, and refineries are supposed have a responsibility to abide by it.”