The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (District) published the January 2013 Hearing Board agenda on its website yesterday and Chevron leads the way with three petitions for variance relief.
As Yogi Berra once said, "It's deja vu all over again."
Chevron is asking for permission to violate permit/regulatory requirements for the following facilities via three separate petitions:
- Cahn 3, Section 32 US & 29 Transfer in the Lost Hills Oil Field
- 26C Oil Cleaning Plant in the Midway Sunset Oil Field
- 8Z North East McKittrick Unit in the McKittrick Oil Field
District and California regulations allow regulated businesses to petition local air district Hearing Boards for relief from air regulations when they can demonstrate that certain circumstances have or will occur that make it difficult or impossible for them to comply. Depending upon those circumstances and whether certain other requirements and mitigations can be met, the Hearing Board may or may not grant the request.
The process is one that Chevron appears to utilize quite frequently, moreso than other companies in Kern County. According to public records on the District's website, petitions for variances from Chevron last year appeared a total of 30 times for various Chevron facilities operating in the Southern Region. None of them were denied by the Hearing Board.
The total includes seven emergency variance petitions, which need only be approved by one Hearing Board member.
A review of the District's Hearing Board agendas shows that Chevron has filed more petitions for variance relief than any other oil company operating in Kern County - more than AERA Energy and Occidental combined. Since 2009, Chevron has appeared on the Hearing Board agenda over 100 times. In addition, it requested and was granted 17 emergency variances during this same period.
Although all of these petitions and their approvals have apparently met all legal requirements, to the layperson this may raise eyebrows as to how effective environmental regulations are, particularly given the sheer number of occasions for which Chevron, in this case, has asked for and been granted relief.
It also raises the question as to whether Chevron's past history of being unable to comply with environmental regulations at times, as evidenced by the large number of variance requests it has made, is being taken into consideration at all by the Hearing Board.
The oil company has been under fire recently for its environmental record at its refinery in the San Francisco area as well as for the troubling legal battles with Ecuador. The latter case involves alleged contamination by Texaco, which Chevron acquired several years ago. Ecuadoran courts have issued a multi-billion dollar judgement against the company, triggering a ferocious legal battle across the world.