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Chevron Refinery in Richmond, CA, USA


Since 1902, Chevron has been refining crude oil in order to manufacture petroleum products and other chemicals in Richmond, a poor and mostly African American community in Contra Costa County, CA. During the 20th century, the Richmond refinery spread across the area. Today, the company employs 1,200 people and processes approximately 240,000 barrels of crude oil a day into gasoline, jet fuel, diesel and lubricants. Negative health outcomes have been associated with the disproportionate burden of industrial contamination in this area. A recent health study reported that prevalence of asthma among children in Richmond (17%) was double than the national average (7%). Prevalence of asthma among adults that have lived in Richmond for more than 15 years (34.9%) was significantly higher than those more recent residents (9.2%), both higher than the national average (8.7%). Other acute health problems related to air pollution, such as headaches, eye irritation, skin irritation, and respiratory allergies have been identified within these communities.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Chevron Refinery in Richmond, CA, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:California
Location of conflict:Richmond
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Oil and gas refining
Specific commodities:Crude oil
Chemical products
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The refinery processes approximately 240,000 barrels of crude oil a day. The company had 304 accidents between 1989 and 1995 - major fires, spills, leaks, explosions, toxic gas releases, flaring, and air contamination.

Project area:2,324
Level of Investment for the conflictive project1,000,000,000
Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:15,000-30,000
Start of the conflict:1993
Company names or state enterprises:Chevron Polska Energy Resources Sp. z o.o. from United States of America
Relevant government actors:City of Richmond, Planning Commission for the city of Richmond, California EPA
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:The West County Toxics Coalition, Communities for a Better Environment, Golden Gate University Environmental Law and Justice Clinic, APEN (Asian Pacific Environmental Network)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Fires, Noise pollution, Waste overflow, Oil spills, Air pollution
Potential: Global warming, Soil contamination, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Occupational disease and accidents, Other environmental related diseases
Other Health impactsAsthma and other acute health problems related to air pollution: eye irritation, headaches, nosebleeds, respiratory allergies, and skin irritation.
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Negotiated alternative solution
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Application of existing regulations
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:After not reaching agreements in negotiations with Chevron, local residents tried to lobby public officials to force the company to invest $50 million into community development. The West County Toxics Coalition was able to successfully lobby the Planning Commission in Richmond because it could rally hundreds of citizens. Legal advice from the Golden Gate Law Clinic also helped this community group interpret laws like the CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) and thus provide powerful evidence that the reformulated fuel plan would have detrimental impacts on children and other vulnerable residents. Chevron ended up paying $5 million.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

City of Richmond's Measure T
[click to view]

California Environmental Quality Act
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Choy, Ellen, and Ana Orozco. "Chevron in Richmond." Race, Poverty, & the Environment 16.2 (2009): 43-46.

Cohen, Alison, et al. "Our Environment, Our Health A Community-Based Participatory Environmental Health Survey in Richmond, California." Health Education & Behavior 39.2 (2012): 198-209.

Brody, Julia Green, et al. "Linking exposure assessment science with policy objectives for environmental justice and breast cancer advocacy: the northern California household exposure study." American Journal of Public Health 99 (2009).

Wikipedia Entry of Chevron Richmond Refinery
[click to view]

Bernard, Sara. "Henry Clark and Three Decades of Environmental Justice." Richmond Confidential. N.p., 6 Dec. 2012. Web. 08 May 2014. .
[click to view]

University of Michigan Environmental Justice Case Study: West County Toxics Coalition and the Chevron Refinery in Richmond, California
[click to view]

Democracy Now. Goodman, Amy. "Chevron to Pay $2 Million for 2012 Refinery Fire in Richmond, CA; 200 Arrested at Protest." Democracy Now! N.p., 6 Aug. 2013. Web. 08 May 2014. .
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Henry Clark grew up alongside the Chevron oil refinery and General Chemical Co. plant in North Richmond. (Photo by: Sara Bernard)
[click to view]

Protesters march against Chevron in Richmond, California on Saturday. Credit: @joshkahnrussell
[click to view]

Animation of Fire at Chevron's Richmond Refinery, August 6th 2012. A film produced by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board detailing the sequence of events and cause of the fire (8 mins 15 secs).
[click to view]

The toxic smoke rising from the disastrous fire at Chevron’s Richmond refinery crude unit no. 4 on Aug. 6, seen from a ferry boat in San Francisco Bay. The Richmond-San Rafael Bridge is in the foreground. – Photo: Harrison Chastang
[click to view]

NBCBayArea. Richmond police have arrested more than 160 protesters for trespassing at a Chevron refinery as part of an environmental protest against the oil industry.

Capt. Mark Gagan says more than 2,500 people marched to the Chevron refinery during Saturday's planned nonviolent demonstration in Richmond.

Gagan says activists were handcuffed, cited and released after they refused to cease trespassing outside the refinery's main gate. At least 175 arrests had been made by 5 p.m. Saturday, and he expects the total number of arrests to exceed 200.

Gagan says there have been no reports of injuries or damage.

Saturday's action comes three days before the anniversary of the Aug. 6 explosion that fouled the air, shut down the refinery and sent hundreds of residents to the hospital with breathing complaints.

It comes one day after Richmond city leaders and their attorneys filed litigation against Chevron in connection with the fire.

The lawsuit alleges the explosion and blaze at the Richmond refinery on Aug. 6, 2012, resulted from "years of neglect, lax oversight and corporate indifference to necessary safety inspection and repairs."

The fire occurred after a leak in a corroded pipe in the refinery's crude oil unit created a large cloud of hydrocarbon vapor that ignited in a fireball at about 6:30 p.m. that day.

The fire burned for several hours before being controlled and sent a huge plume of toxic black smoke over the area. More than 15,000 people were treated at hospitals for respiratory problems and other illnesses.

The lawsuit, authorized by the City Council last week after months of failed negotiations with Chevron, seeks financial compensation for economic damage to the city, including the costs of emergency response, firefighting, environmental cleanup, alleviating harm to public health, and loss of value in city property.
[click to view]

Other comments:This is one of the top 40 influential environmental justice cases in the United States identified from a national survey of environmental activists, scholars and other leaders by graduate students at the University of Michigan
Meta information
Contributor:Alejandro Colsa Pérez, [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:17
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