Chevron Oil Refinery

By: Jonathan Nicolas, SFSU, 2017

The Chevron Oil Refinery, located in Richmond California is an energy injustice site because it is polluting a marginalized community, with 82% of the inhabitants in Richmond being people of color[1]. This plant happens to be one of the largest in the United States, pumping out over 240,000 barrels of oil per day [2]. This refinery isn’t limited to just oil however, but in fact processes gasoline, jet fuel, chemical products, and diesel[3]. Currently, there are over 3500 residents in North Richmond that are facing the immediate environmental and negative health effects of being located right next to the refinery; 97% of those residents being African American, Latino, or Asian[4]. I will show that the energy injustices at this site occur because of environmental racism and the location being deemed a sacrifice zone.

A picture of the Chevron Oil Refinery on a typical day.


People that require affordable income housing often have to relocate to areas that are extremely close to this oil refinery[5]. This injustice has been going on for over 100 years, and part of the reason that this community happens to be a majority of marginalized individuals is because of the end of World War 2. After the war, African Americans searched for housing, but were pushed into the corners of Richmond California because predominately white groups did not accept them in their community[6]. There are various other injustices located in the communities, for instance, there are an additionally 4 oil refineries, 8 Superfund locations, and 3 toxic chemical plants located in the surrounding area[7]. Of course with all of this industry occurring in the area comes the environmental effects associated with plants like these.

Chevrons oil refinery fire from 2012.

Health impacts

Some of the effects of the oil refinery on the environment include a higher percentage of particulate matter in the air, including more than half of Richmond homes assessed having higher than average particulate matter indoors[8]. There are very high concentrations of benzene, mercury, and butadiene, and nickel[9]. All of these are carcinogenic and have very high medical costs associated with the treatment process. While the impacts of living next to processing refineries have shown signs on increased cancer rates, reproductive issues, neurological issues, and respiratory issues, the accountability aspect of trying to regulate the Chevron oil refinery more has been a longstanding issue[10].

Chevrons oil refinery viewed from across the bay.

Why this site is considered an energy injustice

The injustice at the Chevron oil refinery was not an overnight process. Initially when this plant was first being built, there were not a lot of inhabitants in the area and the location of the site did not seem to be racially charged[11]. However, when African Americans were migrating away from the South to escape the racism and Jim Crow laws, they were forced to the outskirts of the Richmond area which happened to be surrounded by a lot of industry[12]. Due in part to white communities not being accepting of the migration and being pushed towards the cheapest housing developments that were available at the time, which is located next to the oil refinery[13]. The combination of marginalized people that fall below the poverty line can classify this as environmental racism. Environmental racism is essentially any practice, policy or action that disproportionally effects a group of individuals or communities based on race [14]. Environmental racism benefits white individuals because they are not subjected to the externalities that people of color have to face [15].

Steam can be seen coming from the plant, similar to the white hydrocarbon vapor what caused the refinery fire in 2012.

Additionally, being one of the largest oil refineries in the United States, this area could be considered a sacrifice zone. A sacrifice zone is an area that bears the costs of having an energy injustice in the argument of this energy injustice site being the greater good to individuals[16]. In these justifications, people say that while a few individuals will have to suffer as a result of it, much more will benefit in the grand scheme of things [17] . It is writing off generally marginalized people in the rhetoric that more people will benefit from the injustice. The community that lives in North Richmond are neglected because the narrative is that the economic benefits far outweigh the environmental consequences and negative health effects associated with the Chevron oil refinery.

Another view of how expansive Chevrons oil refinery is.


[1] Kay, J., & Katz, C. (2012, June). Pollution, Poverty, People of Color: The factory on the hill. Retrieved October 02, 2017, from

[2] (Kay & Katz 2012)

[3] (Kay & Katz 2012)

[4](Kay & Katz 2012)

[5](Kay & Katz 2012)

[6](Kay & Katz 2012)

[7](Kay & Katz 2012)

[8](Kay & Katz 2012)

[9](Kay & Katz 2012)

[10](Kay & Katz 2012)

[11](Kay & Katz 2012)

[12](Kay & Katz 2012)

[13] Bullard, R. D. (2002). Dumping in Dixie: race, class, and environmental quality. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

[14] Bullard, R. D. (2002)

[15] Bullard, R. D. (2002)

[16] Scott, R. R. (2010). Removing mountains: extracting nature and identity in the Appalachian coalfields. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

[17] Scott, R. R. (2010)


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