MARTINEZ -- Chevron will pay $2 million in fines and restitution after pleading no contest Monday to six misdemeanor criminal charges stemming from a fire at its Richmond refinery last year.

Chevron attorneys accepted the terms, including years of probation, $1.28 million in fines, and more than $720,000 in restitution payments to three different agencies.

The penalties resulted from joint charges filed Monday in Contra Costa Superior Court by state Attorney General Kamala Harris and Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark Peterson. The terms of the plea had been agreed to by both sides before Monday's hearing.

Chevron’s Richmond refinery (Contra Costa Times archives)
Chevron's Richmond refinery (Contra Costa Times archives)

"This criminal case achieves our goals of holding Chevron accountable for their conduct, protecting the public, and ensuring a safer work environment at the refinery," Peterson said in a news release. Peterson also praised Chevron for its "commitment to do more than what is required by law" to prevent future accidents.

Chevron committed six violations of labor, health and safety standards, according to the complaint. The violations included failure to "correct deficiencies" in equipment, negligent emissions and failure to prevent employees' exposure to hazardous conditions.

The Aug. 6 fire knocked out the refinery's No. 4 crude unit and sent more than 15,000 people to area hospitals complaining of respiratory discomfort and other symptoms. Subsequent investigations have revealed that the fire was caused by a corroded pipe that failed, and that the pipe had been recommended for replacement several times during the previous decade.

In addition to the $1.28 million in fines, Chevron will pay restitution to Richmond BUILD, a local workforce development program, Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Cal/OSHA and the state Attorney General's Office.

Chevron spokeswoman Melissa Ritchie issued a statement Monday saying "Chevron U.S.A. has resolved this matter by agreement with the offices of the Contra Costa County District Attorney and the Attorney General of the State of California." Ritchie added that the company is committed to improving safety at the refinery.

"We have reimbursed community members and local government agencies in Richmond and West Contra Costa County for medical and response-related costs," Ritchie said. "We are conducting a comprehensive inspection of our refinery."

Frank Pitre, of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, the law firm which is suing Chevron on behalf of the city, said it was too early to speculate on what impact if any the criminal case will have on the city's suit.

"What I can say is this is the same company that just last Friday issued a press statement calling Richmond's lawsuit meritless, yet at the same time was negotiating a settlement to resolve criminal charges against them," Pitre said. "The hypocrisy is astounding."

Christine Baker, director of the Department of Industrial Relations, which oversees Cal/OSHA, released a statement Monday saying the agency is "appreciative of the reimbursement allotted to Cal/OSHA as part of the resolution for the People v. Chevron U.S.A. Inc. case."

Cal/OSHA received $299,631 in the plea agreement, making it the recipient of the largest share of restitution payments. The agency fined Chevron nearly $1 million on Jan. 30 for a slew of safety violations revealed in investigations following the fire.

Andres Soto, an activist with Communities for a Better Environment, a frequent Chevron critic, said he needed more details about the deal.

"What is curious to me is how the city of Richmond seems to be cut out of any restitution," Soto said.

Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726 or rrogers@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/roberthrogers.