Chevron’s Richmond Refinery Fire: Another Case of Environmental and Community Destruction

Written by Ralph E. Stone. Posted in Energy, Environment, Healthcare, Opinion

Tagged: , , , , , , ,

Published on August 25, 2012 with 5 Comments

Photo courtesy OccupyOakland.

By Ralph E. Stone

August 25, 2012

Chevron’s Richmond Refinery – the company’s second largest refinery – recently spewed toxic smoke over Richmond and San Pablo sending more than 14,000 people in the East Bay to medical facilities with smoke-related complaints. This is but the latest in Chevron’s legacy of environmental and community destruction.

Chevron is the second largest oil company in the United States and the third largest corporation in the U.S. with $26.9 billion in 2011 profits. It explores for, produces, refines, transports and markets oil, natural gas, and gasoline. Major operations also include chemical, coal mining and power generation companies. But Chevron’s main revenues is from its oil and gasoline businesses.

Chevron’s world headquarters is located in San Ramon, California. Its refinery in Richmond, California is one a the largest in the U.S. More than 25,000 people live within three miles of the refinery. According to the U.S. Census,about 16 percent of the residents live below the federal poverty line, and about 80 percent of the residents are listed as “minorities.”

Within a mile of the refinery are businesses, houses, a school and playgrounds.

One of Chevron’s ads states, “Protecting the planet is everyone’s job. I agree. What Chevron is doing. . . ”  Yet, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported the release or disposal of more than 600,000 pounds of toxic waste from the Richmond site in 2009, including at least 36 toxic substances, including more than 3,800 pounds of benzene, a known human carcinogen, and over 235,000 pounds of ammonia, repeated exposure to which can cause an asthma-like allergy and lead to lung damage.

According to the California Air Resources Board, Chevron was the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in California in 2009 and a high priority violator (HPV) of the Clean Air Act since at least 2006. HPV is the most serious level of violation noted by the EPA.

A 2008 Brown University toxic exposure study concluded that the air inside the homes of Richmond residents is more toxic than outside due to harmful pollutants from the refinery, which can cause respiratory diseases.  In fact, Richmond had the third highest number of deaths from cancer between 2003 and 2007 of any city in Contra Costa County.

In addition, an October 2010 County Asthma Profile found that county residents, as compared to all Californians, are hospitalized for asthma at higher rates; have higher death rates due to asthma, particularly among adults ages 65 and older; and have higher rates of visits to the emergency doctor, particularly for children aged 0 to 4 years.

For the sake of the community and the environment, it is time for federal and state regulators to force Chevron to use its vast resources to finally clean up its act.

Source: The True Cost of Chevron: An Alternative Annual Report released May 2011 by Global Exchange last year. The Report shows Chevron’s consistent pattern of using its vast financial and political weight to operate with blatant disrespect for the health, security, economic livelihood, safety, and environment of far too many communities within which it operates. Such as the gross human rights abuses by the company in Burma and Nigeria; environmental and public health devastation in California, Alaska, Mississippi, New York, New Jersey, Angola, Canada, Chad, Cameroon, Ecuador, Kazakhstan, and the Philippines; participation in a war for oil in Iraq; and great political and consumer price manipulation throughout the U.S. and globally.

Ralph E. Stone

Ralph E. Stone

I was born in Massachusetts; graduated from Middlebury College and Suffolk Law School; served as an officer in the Vietnam war; retired from the Federal Trade Commission (consumer and antitrust law); travel extensively with my wife Judi; and since retirement involved in domestic violence prevention and consumer issues.

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  • earlrichards

    Why should the public pay for Chevron’s negligence by paying for higher gasoline prices? Chevron should pay for their own mistakes and not the consumer. Chevron has lots money, because in 2011, Chevron made $27 billions, paid no federal tax and received billion in tax breaks and subsidies.

  • earlrichards

    The oil corporations are similiar to a public utility, because there is no business competition to keep the gasoline prices down. Their gasoline prices go-up together, meaning price fixing and collusion. Therefore, the oil corporations have to be tightly regulated by the government, in the public interest, to ensure that there is no price fixing, no price gouging, no fraud, no excessive profiteering, no lax safety standards, no environmental destruction, no public health risks, no accounting tricks, no corruption, no transfer (mis)pricing, no collusion and no illegal tax loopholes.

    The government has to form the California Oil Price Regulation Commission (COPRC), to receive and investigate consumer compliants and to regulate the oil industry. The price of a gallon of gasoline has to be decided by COPRC and not decided by the oil market manipulation and the speculation of the refiners and Big Oil, after an investigation into the production and transportation costs, because there are 3.5 billion barrels of oil in the ground in California, so the gasoline price should be the same as in Saudi Arabia, about 50 cents a gallon. The refineries shutting-down at the same time, and all of the refineries increasing their prices, after the Chevron explosion, suggests another Enron-type, rip-off. Jerry Brown should should look into this.

    California gasoline prices are higher than in most of the other states, because this is Big Oil’s revenge for voting for the Democrats and for not approving Prop 23. Oil is too critical a resource to be manipulated and controlled by greedy refiners and greedy oil corporations.

  • Ralph E. Stone

    A friend of mine who lives in El Cerritto was one of the victims of the refinery fire.  The smoke aggravated her asthma, forcing her to seek medical help.  What almost irked her more than the fire was that the Bay Area Air Quality Management reported that there were no pollutants in the air except in a very limited path.  Later, it came out that they did not report particulates in their air quality reports.  She would have expected this from Chevron, but not from the air quality people who are supposed to be on the side of the people.

  • Davidlamb12

    It is evident that neither the author nor the commenters have much knowledge or understanding about the business of oil refining nor any other heavy industry in the US.  While there are areas that can be run/operated better, none of the suggestions here have any value.

  • Patrick Monk.

    While I empathise with the Richmond residents who suffered a temporary inconvenience, it pales in comparison to the world-wide devastation resulting from the activities of ‘Big Oil’ which is fueled by our addiction to, and dependence on, a carbon based economy. Time is running out.