The People Protest Chev-wrong

Executive Board member Sharon Adams reports on the "Summer Heat" protest in Richmond, California.

In August 2012, the Chevron refinery in Richmond, CA exploded into fire and fumes. “Official” reports blame workers first, and ignored the real cause – the crude oil being refined in Richmond now includes tar sands. The Richmond facility was not built to refine tar sands, because tar sands are much more corrosive to steel piping. The original specifications for the steel piping at the Richmond refinery did not take into account the increased “sulfidation corrosion” caused by tar sands. The explosion exposed the truth – that Chevron refinery in Richmond CA is already refining tar sands, despite opposition in Canada and the US, and despite the environmental consequences of refining tar sands.

Chevron is now using this horrible explosion to upgrade all steel piping to make the refinery more capable of refining even more tar sands. This is shock economics on the ground level. The workers and local community pay the price, and Chevron will now get what it has wanted for so long – an increased ability to refine heavy sour oils, including tar sands, causing even more toxic pollution to the local community.

The explosion one year ago sprayed a toxic gas plume over the City of Richmond, sending over 15,000 people to the hospital. The gas plume included vaporized hydrocarbons, known as “fog oil” included small droplets (~1 micron diameter) of condensed oil. This toxic cloud spread over Richmond, depositing toxic waste across the city and surrounding regions. Local residents were forced to pull out plants that had been growing all summer because the plants were unfit to eat.

To mark the passage of one year since brimstone belched out of Chevron, thousands of people marched to the gates of Chevron, in a “Summer Heat” protest organized by and others. Over 200 people were placed in plastic handcuffs, escorted through the gates of the Chevron refinery, and put into vans, while NLG Legal Observers watched. Those taken into custody were not technically “arrested” but did have to provide identification and have a photo taken before they were released a couple of miles away. The whole process was very long, taking a few hours to arrest all those who chose to be arrested.

Some questioned the effectiveness of lining up to be arrested. Others noted that Richmond Police Department was getting paid overtime to engage in this symbolic gesture – it wasn’t even a real arrest. The residents of Richmond, through their tax dollars, ended up paying the police to arrest people who were objecting to a long-time community polluter.

Coincidentally, Chevron just agreed to pay a $2 million fine after pleading no contest to claims filed by the State of California and Contra Costa County. The $2 million fine is less than a slap on the wrist to Chevron, which had over $22 Billion in gross profit in the last quarter. Chevron still faces a lawsuit brought by the City of Richmond.