Chevron Refinery Harms Local Communities in California

June 2017
Madison Brown

Chevron Corporation, headquartered in San Ramon, California is one of the world’s largest oil companies, engaged in producing, marketing and delivering oil, natural gas, and geothermal energy. In 2014, it was ranked third in gross revenues on the U.S. Fortune 500 list and sixteenth on the Fortune Global 500 list.

Chevron Corporation sold an average of 3.1 million barrels per day of refined products. The company owns an oil refinery on the north side of the San Francisco Bay area in Richmond, California. On several occasions this plant inflicted health and environmental hazards to those who live in surrounding areas, reaching as far as San Francisco.

Beginning in 1989, leaks resulted in the release of noxious fumes, sometimes leading to explosions and fires.  Toxic residue made its way into water sources and soil in surrounding neighborhoods, predominately communities of color. Sulfuric gasses in the air forced residents to seek shelter elsewhere. While over 200 chemicals contaminated the area, Chevron took no responsibility to clean up the mess.

In 2007, the California Regional Water Quality Control Board's Bay Protection and Toxic Clean-up Program ordered Chevron to engage in the coast clean-up which cost between $20-30 million. A local referendum, Measure T, also proposed raising the business tax, which Chevron vehemently opposed. After its lobbying efforts, the measure failed.  The company sued Contra Costa County unsuccessfully for $73 million it spent in fighting the referendum. Mayor of Richmond, Gayle McLaughlin stated, "If Chevron wins this appeal, it will mean layoffs, major cutbacks in services and would push us virtually to the edge of bankruptcy. Cities are suffering and Chevron is making billions of dollars.”

The Assessment Appeals Board denied Chevron’s claims and ordered the company to pay an additional $26.7 million in taxes rather than receiving the $73 million refund Chevron sought.

More recently, in August of 2012, a large fire occurred at the refinery with more than 15,000 local residents seeking medical care. In 2013, the US Chemical Safety Board cited Chevron for “chronic failure to replace aging equipment” and called for an “overhaul of regulatory oversight” of the industry to prevent such atrocities from recurring. Chevron, in turn, pleaded no contest to six charges and settled by paying $2 million in fines to the state and Contra Costa County. The city of Richmond also filed a lawsuit against Chevron stating "a continuation of years of neglect, lax oversight and corporate indifference to necessary safety inspections and repairs.”

However, the refinery stands today in the north bay, after countless violations against the land and communities surrounding it.

Although Chevron has recently been forced to address some of these issues and had to pay fines and additional taxes, corporate assaults to our communities are “authorized” through an unending stream of legal rights handed to corporations by U.S, courts going back nearly 200 years. The extensive private property protections and the constitutional protections granted in the 1886 case, Santa Clara County vs Southern Pacific Railroad, leave corporate entities in charge while people and communities are constantly on the defensive.  Add to this the legal right of corporations to donate generously to candidates in our political arena and it’s safe to say that corporations actually govern us!

Move to Amend’s agenda is to contest this illegitimate power of corporations by working to withdraw all corporate constitutional rights (intended for natural persons only) and the doctrine that money as a form of political speech. MTA’s proposed 28th Amendment, House Joint Resolution 48, the ‘We the People’ Amendment would put We the People in a position to make real democracy a possibility.

Join the work of Move to Amend.  See our informative website and sign the Move to Amend petition at


To learn more about the injustices committed by Chevron, check out these links:

  1. Chevron Richmond Refinery - 2016 Incident -
  2. KQED News, Air District Says Chevron Refinery In Richmond Probably Caused Mysterious S.F. Odors -
  3. Environmental Justice Case Studies: West County Toxics Coalition and the Chevron Refinery -
  4. KRON4 News, Flares Seen at Chevron Refinery in Richmond -
  5. US Chemical Safety Board, Chevron Refinery Fire -
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