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7-Eleven Fined $15 Million After Explosion Probe

MONTEREY, Calif. -- An investigation that began in 2002 with a small explosion at a Del Rey Oaks gas station will cost 7-Eleven $15 million for violating environmental and safety regulations at 232 outlets statewide, reported the Monterey County Herald.

The settlement between 7-Eleven, the California Attorney General's Office and Monterey and San Joaquin counties requires the convenience store company to pay $5 million in damages and make $10 million in improvements to its gasoline storage tanks.

Prosecutors said the company did not properly monitor underground gas tanks and get permits to repair them, creating hazardous conditions for customers, employees and others.

The lack of monitoring devices increased the risk of groundwater pollution from undetected leaks and the risk of accidents, such as fires or explosions, said prosecutor Matt Bogoshian, chief of civil enforcement for the Monterey County District Attorney's Office.

"The whole system hinges on those things being hooked up and working properly," he said.

The case began in November 2002 with an accident at 7-Eleven's Citgo station on Canyon Del Rey Blvd. in Del Rey Oaks. A worker with San Diego-based MIT Contracting used an electric tool instead of a hand tool while repairing gas pumps, causing a small explosion. The worker and his partner sustained minor wounds.

Investigating the accident, the District Attorney's Office found that the contractor and 7-Eleven had not filed for permits for the repair work.

As the investigation continued, it expanded, Bogoshian said. Investigators found a variety of problems at various stations. "We just kept digging and digging and digging," he said. "Any time there's a big company that seems to be breaking the rules in our county, it begs the question of whether they're breaking the rules statewide."

Eventually, Monterey County officials found that San Joaquin County officials were working on similar cases, so they teamed up. The Attorney General's Office got involved about a year ago as the counties were working toward a settlement.

The settlement requires the company to spend about $10 million to upgrade its storage tanks statewide over the next six years. After the upgrades, the tanks will exceed state standards. The agreement also gives the state additional power to enforce its terms.
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