Richmond, CA has been called a "refinery town" because of the widely-felt presence of Chevron's oil refinery in the city. But what is the actual web of relationships between the oil refinery and the Richmond community? If the refinery were to shut down, what would happen to the city and community? With the climate crisis generating wildfires, drought, flooding, increased food prices, and other impacts, there is a need to envision an economy beyond fossil fuels. How can cities like Richmond plan ahead for an economy free of fossil fuels? To begin, there must be an understanding of the variety of dependencies, positive and negative, that tie the city to the refinery. What do the current harms and benefits related to the refinery mean for planning a transition to a diversified local economy and healthy community free of fossil fuels? This report shares community testimonies and key data points from the analysis that partners in Richmond conducted to answer these questions.
The harms and dependencies of the fossil fuel industry in Richmond are far-reaching, from the air pollution affecting local residents’ health to the payments of taxes and fees that fund city services, to the jobs and the outsized political influence on government and policies. This research identified these impacts through a series of community workshops, a survey and interviews with residents, a review of academic and professional literature, and public data sources.1 For each type of impact of the refinery, a selection of quotes from residents and key data points are provided to illustrate how the community is affected.
Summary of Local Harms and Dependencies Resulting from the Refinery
Click a section of the wheel below to explore community voices and information about that harm or dependency:
- Damaging health effects from toxic air pollution
- Contamination of the bay, groundwater and soil
- Political manipulation
- Exacerbation of the climate crisis
- Racial injustice
- Suppressed property values
- Hazardous working conditions
- Regional employment with high salaries and benefits
- Local tax payments that fund public services
- Financial contributions to nonprofit service providers
- Fuel and other petroleum products that are in demand in current economy
Dependency: Regional employment with high salaries and benefits
"I realize there's a lot of people in our community that feel like Chevron is employing a lot of people from here and they’re making the community a better place. They're like, paying taxes and things like that, but I also know my aunt (a former Chevron employee) was telling me that there are literally people that come from Nevada every day to work. So I'm like, are you sure? I do very much doubt that they employ a lot of people from our community."
- Lizbeth Ibarra
How many local workers and businesses rely on the refinery economically?
- 152 local residents of Richmond, North Richmond and San Pablo work in oil refinery jobs, according to data from the US Census.2 This is only 0.2 percent of local residents. Most of Chevron’s roughly 3,264 employees live outside the area.“3
- It is estimated that through contracting with other businesses, Chevron supports 500 additional jobs in industries like transportation and construction.4
Dependency: Local tax payments that fund public services
“Even the shelters around Richmond have a lot of funding that comes from Chevron and it infuriates me because it's kind of like a payoff for killing us. And the ones that are using the homeless services, they don't really have a lot of support to speak about the environment or even have a, you know, comprehensive understanding of what's going on. So to use that charity work, to hide the actual, you know, irreplaceable, irreversible damage that this industry is having on us I think is disgusting.”
- Adey Teshager
“Chevron's tax contributions that allow Richmond's public services to function are the bare minimum that anyone could expect of a corporation that has harmed generations of Richmond residents with health issues, dirty air and an overall unsafe environment that community members cannot freely thrive in.”
- Zolboo Namkhaidorj, Richmond resident and organizer with Communities for a Better Environment
How much does Chevron make in profits and how much does it pay in local taxes and fees?
- The Chevron Richmond Refinery has annual profits of $282 million according to the most recent analysis (2018).5
- All together, the taxes and fees paid by the corporation to the city amount to $41.5 million.6
- Tax and fee payments by Chevron make up 23.6 percent of the City of Richmond’s General Fund.7 Payments toward the General Fund are used to provide a wide range of public services, including libraries, community centers, recreation programs, job training, violence prevention, police, fire, city planning and others.
Dependency: Financial contributions to nonprofit service providers
“There are a lot of college students here in Richmond, and I know every single one of my siblings has gotten the Richmond Promise, that I didn't even know until recently that Chevron sponsors. I don't know a lot about economics and things like that, but I do hear people talk about “oh Chevron pays a lot in taxes” and things like that. But at the same time I'm like, what amount of money is worth all of our lives?”
- Lizbeth Ibarra
“They’re poverty pimping at the end of the day, they're trying to wash their hands through other nonprofits.”
- Alfonso Leon
What community projects and services depend on the refinery?
- Chevron signed an agreement with the City of Richmond in 2014 committing to fund local nonprofits if the city approved its so-called "modernization" project. Over a period of 10 years, Chevron agreed to spend $90 million in two main areas: (1) Greenhouse Gas reduction programs, such as transit services, climate action plan, urban forestry, roof-top solar and energy retrofittings; and (2) Community programs, such as Richmond Promise scholarships, grant programs, job training programs, public safety programs and a free internet program.8
Harm: Political manipulation
“I've experienced living in this area firsthand and how bribery, how lobbying, how politics really play out. And it's crazy because we somehow managed to sacrifice our own well-being and livelihood just for jobs.”
- Alfonso Leon
“These politicians have been bought out. They’ve been bought out by Chevron and that’s why it’s continued to happen and that’s why they’re still here. Because they just have money and they’re putting money in other people’s pockets.”
- Minerva Arrebalo
“2014 is always the big example I use. Chevron spent over $3 million to try and defeat our progressive candidates for office, and to elect their Chevron-friendly candidates, but they failed terribly in their efforts. All the progressive candidates won, all of us won and all of the Chevron-friendly candidates lost. So that made national news. You know, it was a David vs. Goliath battle.”
- Gayle McLaughlin
For more, listen to the podcast episode Polluting Politics here.
How has the refinery and Chevron influenced political power and policies?
- Chevron wields political influence through various strategies, including:
- Giving funds to political candidates and Political Action Committees9
- Funding for community events and projects10
- Building alliances with other corporations, construction trade and police unions, the Council of Industries and Chamber of Commerce
- Chevron operates a local news outlet the Richmond Standard,11 and pays a consultant to administer another website, Radio Free Richmond.12
- The 2014 Richmond city council election demonstrates how far Chevron has gone to influence politics in the city. Chevron moved $3 million into three political committees to support their preferred candidates.13
- In more recent elections, Chevron has shifted away from direct payments to political committees in Richmond, but Chevron as a whole did not halt political contributions.14 In 2021, Chevron spent more than $6.7 million on congressional lobbying.15
Harm: Suppressed property values
“They particularly have been extremely uncaring and unresponsive to the people who live nearest to Chevron… the frontline communities. They should seek out generations of people they’ve harmed, closest to the refinery and support them.”
- Roshi Sirjani
How much land does the refinery take up and how does it affect local property values?
- The Chevron Richmond Refinery property covers a 2,900-acre area, occupying over half of the city’s industrial and commercial land.16, 17
- Refineries have a negative effect on property values in surrounding neighborhoods. A study of the effects of a refinery on residential property values found that for homes within the area affected by air contamination, there was a negative 6-8 percent effect.18
- This has a racialized effect because the neighborhoods most burdened by refinery pollution are the areas where people of color were restricted to during the biggest phase of population growth in the city’s history.
Harm: Exacerbation of the climate crisis
“The role that they're playing is making climate change move faster and faster, and pushing down many, many different communities and Indigenous people. Not just from pumping oil, but this also means deforestation, also means waterways being messed up and covered in algae, and it's all connected. And it goes down the line to create more and more problems.”
- Theresa Dixon
“Fossil fuels are deadly. They are bad for health in the here-and-now and they are bad for health in the longer term. Combustion of fossil fuels is the primary driver of climate change, which is an existential threat to all of our health. This is true regardless of whether or not we live in a refinery community or a community where there's oil and gas drilling.”
- Dr. Amanda Milstein
How much does the Richmond refinery contribute to the climate crisis?
- The Chevron Richmond refinery is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gas in the state among the 540 largest "stationary sources" (as opposed to mobile sources like truck traffic) in California.19
- There has been almost zero (less than 1%) actual reductions in greenhouse gas emissions at the Richmond refinery during the most recent 10-year period for which data is available.20
- The Chevron refinery’s air pollution increases the likelihood of droughts, wildfires, food shortages, sea levels rising, and other climate change effects.
Harm: Damaging health effects from toxic air pollution
“One of the things that was most striking to me when I first started practicing (medicine) in Richmond was the expectation from families that their children would develop asthma, and the sort of inevitability of it. The sense that we know this is going to happen, the question is when?”
- Dr. Amanda Millstein
“They're killing us slowly, or even quickly because of their constant pollution and flaring. So that's how they directly affect our lives.”
- Christian Guzman
How much local air pollution does the refinery produce, and how does it affect residents’ health?
- The Refinery is the single largest source of particulate matter emissions (PM2.5) in the City of Richmond.21
- The refinery releases hundreds of tons of pollutants each year (like PM2.5, NOx, SOx) that are known to cause decreased function of vital organs, heart attacks, Inflammation and irritation of the respiratory system and other health problems.22
- Flaring events occur when excess toxic gasses are burned and then released into the atmosphere, and have been common in the last two decades. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) counted 116 flaring incidents from Chevron from 2005 to 2019, more than one every other month on average.23
- Decades of neglect lead to disasters like the 2012 explosion during which six Chevron employees were injured and 15,000 residents of Richmond sought medical treatment for respiratory issues.24
How has the refinery affected people’s health in Richmond?
- “5.1 to 11.6 premature deaths per year were attributed to baseline Particulate Matter 2.5 emissions from the Chevron refinery,” according to a 2021 study by the agency responsible for monitoring and regulating air quality in the Bay Area.25
- Other health effects include infant mortality, cancer, and traumatic mental health effects due to explosions and ongoing environmental harm.26
- The racial inequities in neighborhood environmental conditions lead to racial inequities in related health problems.27
Harm: Contamination of the bay, groundwater and soil
“For starters, we need policies and procedures to get the soil around the refinery cleaned up because of 100 years being on top of that. You cannot tell me that nothing has seeped into the soil, you know, into the water system and irrigation. They need to be responsible for cleaning that up. You know we need to be responsible as a city, our dignitaries need to put stuff in place, so that when that time does come, the costs can't come back on us.”
- Courtney Cummings
How much does the Richmond refinery contribute to water pollution?
- Converting crude oil into products like gasoline involves chemical techniques that contaminate the bay and groundwater. Although some of these releases are technically legal, they add up over time, resulting in elevated levels of contaminants that degrade our environment and threaten public health.
- In 2021, 37,722 pounds of toxic chemicals were released into surface waters by Chevron’s Richmond refinery.28
- This toxic reality is difficult for communities hoping to live a sustainable lifestyle, like the Laotian community in West County, half of whom ate fish they caught themselves, according to a 1998 study by APEN.29
- Groundwater may also get polluted when contaminants seep their way into aquifers. Sea level rise may push toxic groundwater up to the surface. These toxic substances can seep into basements, a broken sewage line, or even vaporized and breathed in by humans.
- The February 2021 oil spill into the bay emphasized that local ecosystems and Richmond residents are constantly at risk.30
Harm: Racial Injustice
“The vast majority of the health impacts have been born by marginalized communities that have been affected by systemic racism. Redlining, you know, it is by no accident that the communities that have bore the brunt of these health impacts are communities that have been chronically underserved and underfunded and under invested in.”
- Dr. Amanda Milstein
“I think the refinery shouldn't be here. Environmental racism is what plays a huge role and where refineries and factories like this are placed. They are placed here for a reason because these are the people that the system doesn't care about. These are people that they want to leave behind - Black, indigenous, people of color, and poor people also.”
- Minerva Arebalo
What effects has the refinery had on racial injustices and inequality?
- Even in the years just before the refinery was established on Ohlone land in 1901, there had been campaigns led by militias and government forces to eliminate native people in California.31
- Housing discrimination along with government-sponsored racial exclusion isolated communities of color and forced many to live in neighborhoods surrounding the refinery, like North Richmond. Decades later, the demographic patterns remain, with the highest percentages of people of color living in neighborhoods next to the refinery.32
- A recent study conducted by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) modeled estimates of total population exposure and found that Latinx and Black residents are the most exposed to PM2.5. The study also found that although there are more white residents than Black residents Richmond, Black residents are exposed to nearly twice as much PM2.5 as those of white residents.33
- These residents must contend with other persistent health threats and lack of access to resources, making them less likely to have the means needed to prepare for and respond to emergencies like the 2012 Fire and refinery flaring.
To plan for a future economy that reflects the fullest embodiment of health, justice, and belonging, there must be a plan for transitioning the industries of today. This means considering the impacts of the current industries and planning for how to replace the dependencies that the community has on them, and to cease and repair the harm they cause. Below are questions to begin this planning as it relates to each area of impact of the refinery.
Click a section of the wheel below to explore important questions to help plan for a Just Transition:
Areas of Impact
Questions to Inform Planning a Just Transition
Dignified and Healthy Local and Regional Jobs
Equitable and Reliable Local Taxes
Thriving, Sustainable Community Serving Organizations
Responsive and Equitable Government
Healthy Places and Ecological Land Stewardship
Reparative and Regenerative Climate
Clean Air and Environmental Justice
Clean Water and Land
Racial Justice and Belonging
There must be a transition from the current extractive economies to a vision of regenerative economies. What do they look like? How do we diversify our local economy so that we’re not depending on refineries? How are we creating economies that are not harming workers, community health, and our planet, but are instead building an economy that heals people and the planet?
This research intends to create resources and a critical framework for residents impacted by the fossil fuel industry to analyze community conditions, articulate visions for a just transition, and develop strategies to advance toward that vision.
Divesting from fossil fuels while also building out an economy that supports dignified work and thriving communities will require disentangling the many dependencies that the city has with the fossil fuel economy today. History shows that industrial transitions have most often been driven by the decisions and priorities of corporations which have abandoned the workers, local communities and environment to fend for themselves with the legacy of pollution and loss of economic resources. Richmond and other cities with fossil fuel industries must plan ahead for this transition in order to ensure that it results in greater health, social equity, a clean environment and supportive economy.
Learn more and get involved with organizations leading this work:
With questions or inquiries, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Three community workshops were conducted in Spring, 2021, in collaboration with Communities for a Better Environment and the Richmond Listening Project. The Listening Project conducted a survey of over 400 residents and carried out 30 in-depth interviews. “Community Voices” quotes in this report are from the interviews conducted by the Richmond Listening Project and published in their podcast. The quotes in this report have been edited for clarity.
2. American Community Survey 5-year Average: Public Use Microdata for Contra Costa County (Far Southwest area) Richmond and San Pablo (2019), distributed by United States Census Bureau, accessed January 20, 2022, https://data.census.gov/mdat/#/search?ds=ACSPUMS5Y2019&cv=ucgid&rv=NAICSP&wt=PWGTP&g=7950000US0601301
3. “City Facts, City of Richmond, CA”, Community Development Department, 2022. https://www.ci.richmond.ca.us/DocumentCenter/View/8348/COR-Fact-Sheet?bidId=
4. Beacon Economics, Chevron refinery Multi-Regional Economic Impact Analysis: Examining the Economic Impact of Chevron Refinery on Richmond, West Contra Costa County and the State of California (Beacon Economics LLC, 2013), 1, 3.
5. Applied Development Economics, Inc., Socioeconomic Impact Analysis of Proposed Amendments to Rule 5, Regulation 6: Particulate Emissions from Petroleum Refinery Fluidized Catalytic Cracking Units (Lafayette, CA: Bay Area Air Quality Management District, 2021), 14, accessed January 31, 2022, https://www.baaqmd.gov/~/media/dotgov/files/rules/reg-6-rule-5-particulate-emissions-from-refinery-fluidized-catalytic-cracking-units/2020-amendment/documents/20210330_sr_0605_app_c-pdf.pdf
6. City of Richmond Finance Department. Richmond, CA: 2019 and 2021. Note: This figure does not include sales tax, which is confidential. However, the refinery is not a point of sale, so sales tax payments primarily apply to the gas stations in the city that are owned by the corporation. Utility Users Tax based on cap required by settlement agreement between Chevron and City of Richmond.
7. City of Richmond Finance Department. Richmond, CA: 2019 and 2021.
8. “Chevron Environmental and Community Investment,” City of Richmond, 2022, https://www.ci.richmond.ca.us/2906/Chevron-Community-Investment
9. Harriet Rowan, "$3 Million in Chevron’s Moving Forward War Chest," Richmond Confidential, October 10, 2014, https://richmondconfidential.org/2014/10/10/3-million-in-chevrons-moving-forward-war-chest/
10. Mike Aldax, "Apply Now for Chevron Richmond’s Black History Awareness Scholarship," The Richmond Standard, https://richmondstandard.com/richmond/2022/01/10/apply-now-for-chevron-richmonds-black-history-awareness-scholarship-2/
11. Rory Carroll, "Chevron's one-man newsroom defends his work: 'They consider me Voldemort'," The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2014/nov/07/chevron-richmond-standard-news-oil-california-refinery-election
12. Suzanne Wilson, "What is Richmond Represented? Is it Chevron?" Richmond Progressive Alliance, July 1, 2022, https://www.richmondprogressivealliance.net/is_it_chevron?utm_campaign=is_richmond_rep_chevron_rpa_li&utm_medium=email&utm_source=teamrichmond
13. Harriet Rowan, "$3 million in Chevron’s Moving Forward war chest," Richmond Confidential, October 10, 2014, https://richmondconfidential.org/2014/10/10/3-million-in-chevrons-moving-forward-war-chest/
14. Jacob Shea, "New Report Criticizes Chevron’s Spending in California Politics," Richmond Confidential, November 23, 2016, https://richmondconfidential.org/2016/11/23/new-report-criticizes-chevrons-spending-in-california-politics/
16. “City Facts, City of Richmond, CA”, Community Development Department, 2022, https://www.ci.richmond.ca.us/DocumentCenter/View/8348/COR-Fact-Sheet?bidId=
17. "History," Chevron, https://richmond.chevron.com/about/history
18. Robert A. Simons, Youngme Seo, and Paul Rosenfeld, “Modeling the Effects of Refinery Emissions on Residential Property Values,” Journal of Real Estate Research 37, no 3, (2015): 321-342, 10.1080/10835547.2015.12091421
19. Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Large Facilities (2020) distributed by US Environmental Protection Agency, accessed January 20, 2022, https://ghgdata.epa.gov/ghgp/main.do#/listFacility/?q=Find%20a%20Facility%20or%20Location&st=CA&bs=&et=&fid=&sf=11001100&lowE=-20000&highE=23000000&g1=1&g2=1&g3=1&g4=1&g5=1&g6=0&g7=1&g8=1&g9=1&g10=1&g11=1&g12=1&s1=1&s2=1&s3=1&s4=1&s5=1&s6=1&s7=1&s8=1&s9=1&s10=1&s201=1&s202=1&s203=1&s204=1&s301=1&s302=1&s303=1&s304=1&s305=1&s306=1&s307=1&s401=1&s402=1&s403=1&s404=1&s405=1&s601=1&s602=1&s701=1&s702=1&s703=1&s704=1&s705=1&s706=1&s707=1&s708=1&s709=1&s710=1&s711=1&s801=1&s802=1&s803=1&s804=1&s805=1&s806=1&s807=1&s808=1&s809=1&s810=1&s901=1&s902=1&s903=1&s904=1&s905=1&s906=1&s907=1&s908=1&s909=1&s910=1&s911=1&si=&ss=&so=0&ds=E&yr=2020&tr=current&cyr=2020&ol=0&sl=0&rs=ALL
20. Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Large Facilities (2022) distributed by US Environmental Protection Agency, accessed August 12, 2022, https://ghgdata.epa.gov/ghgp/main.do#/listFacility/?q=Find%20a%20Facility%20or%20Location&st=CA&bs=&et=&fid=&sf=11001100&lowE=-20000&highE=23000000&g1=1&g2=1&g3=1&g4=1&g5=1&g6=0&g7=1&g8=1&g9=1&g10=1&g11=1&g12=1&s1=1&s2=1&s3=1&s4=1&s5=1&s6=1&s7=1&s8=1&s9=1&s10=1&s201=1&s202=1&s203=1&s204=1&s301=1&s302=1&s303=1&s304=1&s305=1&s306=1&s307=1&s401=1&s402=1&s403=1&s404=1&s405=1&s601=1&s602=1&s701=1&s702=1&s703=1&s704=1&s705=1&s706=1&s707=1&s708=1&s709=1&s710=1&s711=1&s801=1&s802=1&s803=1&s804=1&s805=1&s806=1&s807=1&s808=1&s809=1&s810=1&s901=1&s902=1&s903=1&s904=1&s905=1&s906=1&s907=1&s908=1&s909=1&s910=1&s911=1&si=&ss=&so=0&ds=E&yr=2020&tr=trend&cyr=2020&ol=0&sl=0&rs=ALL
21. “Pollution Mapping Tool,” California Air Resources Board, 2022, https://www.arb.ca.gov/ei/tools/pollution_map/?_ga=2.89827800.2109656155.1660325132-507789135.1601309228
22. “Pollution Mapping Tool,” California Air Resources Board, 2022, https://ww2.arb.ca.gov/capp-resource-center/data-portal/carb-pollution-mapping-tool
23. “Frequency of Flaring Events 2005 through 2019”, Bay Area Air Quality Management District, 2019, https://www.baaqmd.gov/~/media/files/compliance-and-enforcement/flares/graphs/flare-emissions-charts/2019/frequency_of_flaring_2019-pdf.pdf?la=en
24. Final Investigation Report: Chevron Richmond Refinery Pipe Rupture and Fire (Richmond, CA: US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, 2015), https://www.csb.gov/chevron-refinery-fire/
25. Modeling Fine Particulate Matter Emissions from the Chevron Richmond Refinery: An Air Quality Health Impact Analysis (San Francisco, CA: Bay Area Air Quality Management District, 2021), https://www.baaqmd.gov/~/media/dotgov/files/rules/reg-6-rule-5-particulate-emissions-from-refinery-fluidized-catalytic-cracking-units/2020-amendment/documents/20210525_10_fsr_0605_app_a2-pdf.pdf?la=en
27. Susan Chambliss, “Local- and Regional-Scale Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Air Pollution Determined by Long-Term Mobile Monitoring,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 118, no. 37 (2021), https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2109249118
28. TRI Facility Report: Chevron Products Co Richmond Refinery (US Environmental Protection Agency, 2022), https://enviro.epa.gov/facts/tri/ef-facilities/#/Release/94802CHVRN841ST
29. Audrey Chiang, “A Seafood Consumption Survey of the Laotian Community of West Contra Costa County, California,” Asian Pacific Environmental Network, 1998, https://www.issuelab.org/resources/3038/3038.pdf
30. Ted Goldberg, “8 Months After Chevron Oil Refinery Spill, Few Answers Surface About Cause,” KQED, October 21, 2021, https://www.kqed.org/news/11891252/8-months-after-chevron-oil-refinery-spill-few-answers-surface-about-cause
31. Nicole Montojo, Eli Moore, and Nicole Mauri, Roots, Race, and Place (Berkeley, CA: Othering and Belonging Institute, 2019), https://belonging.berkeley.edu/rootsraceplace
32. Environmental Justice Index (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 2022), https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/placeandhealth/eji/index.html
33. Modeling Fine Particulate Matter Emissions from the Chevron Richmond Refinery: An Air Quality Health Impact Analysis (San Francisco, CA: Bay Area Air Quality Management District, 2021), https://www.baaqmd.gov/~/media/dotgov/files/rules/reg-6-rule-5-particulate-emissions-from-refinery-fluidized-catalytic-cracking-units/2020-amendment/documents/20210525_10_fsr_0605_app_a2-pdf.pdf?la=en