Chevron Richmond Refinery

Chevron Richmond Refinery
Image showing the refinery and the marshlands in the background; Point Richmond in the foreground.

The Chevron Richmond Refinery is a 2,900-acre (12 km2) petroleum refinery in Richmond, California, on San Francisco Bay.[1] It is owned and operated by Chevron Corporation and employs more than 1,200 workers,[1] making it the city's largest employer. The refinery processes approximately 240,000 barrels (38,000 m3) of crude oil a day in the manufacture of petroleum products and other chemicals. The refinery's primary products are motor gasoline, jet fuel, diesel fuel and lubricants.[2]




The refinery was established several years before the City of Richmond was incorporated in 1905. Construction on the refinery began in 1901 between the Potrero Hills and the marshlands in the Point Richmond District; the refinery was opened in 1902.[3] The refinery was built by Standard Oil and its first headquarters was in an abandoned farm house at the former site of the Peters and Silva Farms.[4] The complex was described as "colossal" at the time and to this day it remains a very large complex in its kind.[3] In its first year of operation the plant could process 10,000 barrels (1,600 m3) of oil per day and had a tankage capacity of 185,000 barrels (29,400 m3) in that same first year.[3] William Rheem played a key role in the facility's construction[4] and implementation, being the project manager and the installation's first superintendent.[3] Furthermore, Rheem continued on to be a key and historic civic figure in the City of Richmond. The presence of the burgeoning refinery transformed the small town of Richmond from a rural agricultural community with 200 residents to a company town of several thousand within a few years.[3]


The number of passenger cars in the United States rose from 1.6 million to 5.6 million from 1914 to 1918. Motor trucks, farm tractors, and aircraft all increased at a comparable rate. As a result the demand for gasoline, lubricants and other petroleum products intensified.[5] The Richmond refinery was in an excellent position with its plentiful crude oil, state-of-art equipment and prime location to capitalize on the increased demand for petroleum products on the West Coast. By 1915, the refinery spread across 435 acres (1.76 km2), employed 1,700 workers, and had a capacity of 60,000 barrels (9,500 m3) a day. Not only did the refinery produce transportation fuels, it also had a grease plant, an asphaltum plant, a can factory, a barrel works, a machine shop and a tank car repair shop.[5]

When the United States entered World War I in 1917, the Richmond refinery became a critical producer of fuel for trucks, tankers, trains, and planes in the war effort. Historian Gerald White reported that the "high quality of the medicinal white oil developed at Richmond to take the place of Russian white oil, cut off by the war, caused an executive of E.R. Squibb & Sons to comment that the Richmond product was 'superior to the best oil' ever imported." [5]

At the end of the war the company shifted its focus back to basic product research and in 1919 constructed a well-equipped red brick laboratory building that still stands today. Development manager Ralph A. Halloran's emphasis on centralized, systematic research helped the department gain greater prestige in support of the company's tenet, "Research First - Then Advertising," which ensured that a product was thoroughly tested before being introduced to the public. By 1924, the laboratory's staff grew to 75 skilled employees, who engaged in tests and experiments, not only to develop new uses for petroleum, but to improve existing processes.[5] In 1938 the refinery constructed a new Hydro Plant for the production of synthetic aviation gasoline. It was the first in the Western United States to produce synthetic gasoline by combining purified hydrogen gas with an unsaturated gas by-product from gasoline cracking operations.

With the onset of World War II the refinery saw major changes. Many employees left for service in the U.S. military and close to 400 women joined the refinery workforce. The refinery shifted production to high-octane fuel and other products to meet military needs. In 1943 a toluene plant was constructed to supply the key ingredient for TNT and later, at the request of the U.S. military, was converted to production of 100-octane gasoline. The U.S. Secretaries of War and Navy and the Petroleum Administrator commended the refinery for exceeding the production of aviation gasoline requested by the government. In 1945, the Richmond refinery won its fifth U.S. Army-Navy "E" award for its support of the military effort.[5]


Following the end of World War II the refinery began a long-range modernization and expansion of its facilities to accommodate the new post-war consumer demands for petroleum products. The refinery constructed units that increased production of highly refined products for the postwar generation of higher-compression engines. In 1951, a 50,000-barrel (7,900 m3) residuum stripper was constructed to convert heavy residual fuel oil into lighter products. In 1959, the company made a major breakthrough when it developed the Isocracking process which uses catalyst to rearrange the existing molecules of heavy fuel oils to remove sulfur and convert low-value fuel oils into higher yield products such as gasoline. The company also completed a new fluid catalytic cracking unit capable of processing 40,000 barrels (6,400 m3) daily of feed stock, further adding to the high-octane gasolines being demanded in rapidly increasing quantities by modern, high-compression automobile engines. In 1965 a breakthrough came when the Richmond refinery opened the world's largest Isomax hydrocracking complex. The unit converts heavy petroleum oils to lighter stocks for gasoline and other higher valued products. The 62,000-barrel (9,900 m3)-a-day unit increased the plant's gasoline output by 40%. A solvent deasphalting plant and a hydrogen manufacturing plant were also constructed to support the Isomax and were the larget of their kind ever constructed.[6]

The postwar years were also marked by a dramatic increase in demand for petrochemicals to serve as the building blocks for hundreds of essential consumer products. In 1951, a new unit was constructed to manufacture paraxylene, a basic material used for making synthetic fibers, as was the first of its kind to produce the chemical from petroleum. The West coast's first phenol plant was completed in 1954 for the production of lubricating oil and lubricating oil additive, resins and plastic, and plywood adhesives. A year later, another chemical plant for the manufacture of isophtalic was constructed, the first in the US. Isophtalic is a chemical intermediate used in plastics and surface coatings. In 1960, construction began on a $17 million complex for production of para- and orthoxylenes, important chemical intermediates, at the Richmond refinery. Another major project increased the capacity for production of alpha olefins, used extensively in the manufacture of "soft" detergents, lubricant additives, plastics and plasticizers.[6] None of these chemical plants are still in operation today except for the alpha olefin plant which produces an intermediate chemical for the production of Techron, Chevron's gasoline additive.

Recent history

During the 1970s and 1980s as the dynamics of the United States petroleum industry were changing, the refinery was transformed to produce higher-value, higher-volume fuels and lubricating oils and to comply with increasingly stringent state and federal policies. These policies called for the refinery to reduce air emissions and waste, treat water, and prevent oil spills.

In order to comply with federal mandates for reduced-lead gasoline the refinery installed reforming units in 1971 to produce higher octane gasoline material. In 1975, the refinery added a desulfurization unit for the production of low-sulfur fuel oil, primarily to supply the growing needs of California electric utility companies. The expansion was also designed to process greater quantities of high-sulfur crudes and products that met environmental specifications. During the expansion the refinery also built two 750,000-barrel (119,000 m3) storage tanks, the largest in the United States, to receive marine cargos.[7]

In 1979, a worldwide shortage of crude oil, along with a shift in the availability of quality crudes, presented challenges to manufacturing operations. Chevron invested in the Richmond refinery, improving their flexibility for handling different types of crude oil, responding to changing product standards, installing energy conservation equipment, and complying with environmental or regulatory requirements. A $17 million direct digital computer control system was first installed in the Isomax plant, and later expanded to include all plants.[7] This enabled the refinery to produce higher-grade products and reduce energy consumption.

In 1984, the construction of a major lubricating oil manufacturing plant increased Richmond's lube oil base-stock output from 3,800 to 8,500 barrels (1,350 m3) a day, using hydrocracking and hydrorefining processes developed by Chevron Research. Later, in 1993, a major research breakthrough occurred when Chevron introduced Isodewaxing technology.[7] This new technique maximized the production of high quality base oils while co-producing high-value light products and allowed for the economical production of base oils that meet specifications calling for lighter-viscosity lubricant grades.

During the 1990s the refinery began producing Chevron Plus Unleaded gasoline, which replaced regular leaded gasoline in California in 1992.[7] Methyl tert-butyl ether, or MTBE, was added as a oxygenate and to raise the octane number. However, MTBE was found to contaminate groundwater, and in 2004 was replaced with ethanol.[8]

In 2002, the 100th anniversary of the Richmond refinery, the plant had over 1,300 employees, covered 2,900 acres (12 km2), operated 30 plants, and had the ability to move 340,000 barrels (54,000 m3) per day of raw materials and finished products across its long wharf. By 2006, the refinery had a capacity of 225,000 barrels (35,800 m3) a day and processed more crude oil than any other plant in the Bay Area and ranked among the major refineries in the U.S.[7]


The Richmond refinery currently employees more than 1,200 people.

During the worst years of the Great Depression the refinery instituted a job sharing program under which more than 3,000 workers were able to retain their jobs by sharing their work with others who were often transferred from positions that had been terminated. One historian credited the companies for helping to maintain Richmond's economic viability during this difficult time, stating: "the worst effects of the stagnant economy were certainly blunted by the ability of Richmond's businesses to keep their factories running and their employees working."[5]

During the refinery's early years it held an enlightened personnel policy that included frequent promotions, the establishment of an eight-hour work day beginning in 1917, and thorough training program for its employees and for apprentices, who often advanced to regular jobs as journeymen at the end of a four-year period.[5] Similar programs still exist today.


Company efforts

The Chevron Richmond refinery has invested many millions of dollars in pollution control facilities, many of which were installed long before mandatory measures were enacted, and ensured that its installations were in full compliance with all air pollution control regulations.[7]

In 1960, the company allocated more than $20 million to suppress emission of pollutants at its Richmond and El Segundo refineries. Six years later, in 1966, the Richmond refinery constructed a plant to recover ammonia and hydrogen sulfide from waste waters.[6] Since 1971 the refinery has invested tens of millions dollars to install major emissions-control equipment, improve its waste-treatment processes, dispose with refinery wastes, produce unleaded gasolines that meet stringent federal and state standards, reduce the amount of energy required to process each barrel of crude, and improve the plant's treatment of its effluent. Additionally, a vapor recovery system was installed at the Long Wharf facility and reduced hydrocarbon emissions by 95 percent during ship loading operations.[9] These efforts are epitomized by Chevron's SMART (Save Money and Reduce Toxins) project, which reduced hazardous waste levels by more than 60 percent from 1986 through 1990 and cut freshwater usage by 30 percent in that same period.[7]

The refinery has also supported restoring natural ecosystems. These efforts include the creation of the Richmond Water Enhancement Wetland, a 90-acre (360,000 m2) preserve for many plant and animal species. The wetland provides for migratory waterfowl whose habitat has been decreased by commercial development along the West Coast. Currently, 103 different species of birds use this new habitat.[10] The refinery has also restored the Wildcat Creek Marsh, a 250-acre (1.0 km2) natural wetland by forming slough channels to the saltwater marsh that had been cut off by years of sediment deposits. The wetlands provide a habitat for two endangered species, the Salt Harvest Mouse and the California Clapper Rail.[10] Additionally, Chevron provides contributions to such organizations as the East Bay-based International Bird Rescue and Research Center.[11]

Air Quality Monitoring

Chevron is currently implementing an Air Quality Monitoring program in the surrounding neighborhoods of North Richmond, Point Richmond and Atchison Village. This program is part of the Richmond Community Benefits Agreement (RCBA, Section 2.F(2))[12] for the Chevron Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project. The Air Quality Monitoring Program will sample air quality using testing methods similar to those used by government agencies and publish these results on a community-accessible website.[13]

Some citizens routinely patrol the area with air collection bins to measure the chemical content of the air.[14]

These measures are important, because on some cold winter days it is possible to smell the odor of the refinery in nearby towns.

2006 explosion

In 2006 an explosion at the Chevron Richmond Refinery left hundreds in hospitals and potentially scared Pixar away from the city.[15]

Oil spill preparedness

Operations personnel assigned to the Richmond marine terminal receive extensive training in oil spill prevention. The Chevron refinery's marine oil-handling equipment, including pipelines and cargo hoses, receives rigorous inspection and testing at regular intervals to ensure no leaks occur.[16] The refinery maintains an Oil Spill Response Team and regularly conducts oil spill drills with agencies such as the United States Coast Guard. The Team's training program exceeds state guidelines and includes defensive tactics to protect environmentally-sensitive sites should a spill occur. The refinery maintains over a dozen response boats at the marine terminal and has over 9,500 feet (2,900 m) of boom on hand.[17]

Chevron is a charter member of the Marine Spill Response Corporation (MSRC), which since January 2005 includes the "legacy" Clean Bay Cooperative.[16] MSRC is the largest spill response organization in the nation. MSRC maintains 12 skimming vessels as well as with 18 rapid-deployment skimming systems, 20 boom boats and over 80,000 ft (24,000 m). of boom.[18]

Castro Cove

Between 1902 and 1987 the refinery released noxious chemicals into the surrounding environment with impunity.[19] This came in the form of contaminated process water from the industrial facilities of the complex. There are unhealthy levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and mercury in the estuarine habitats of Castro Cove and the San Pablo Creek Marsh adjacent to the refinery's runoff from their waste water outfall. The water is highly toxic to wildlife and is too polluted for fishing, swimming, or wading.[19] The refinery is currently being persuaded to fund cleanup efforts by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board's Bay Protection and Toxic Clean-up Program.[19]

Since 1987 the refinery has reduced the impact of discharged process water by improving water treatment to reduce contaminants, including metals, by approximately 80 percent and reducing the amount of treated water discharged from 22 million US gallons (83,000 m3) to 5.6 million US gallons (21,000 m3). Additionally, in 1987 the refinery completed the deepwater discharge project moving the effluent discharge point from Castro Cove to deep water in San Pablo Bay to provide for greater dilution of remaining contaminants and minimizing the impact on water quality.[16]

Measure T controversy

In 2006 a local referendum (Measure T) proposed to raise the business tax. Chevron vehemently opposed the initiative and funded a massive flyer campaign, suggesting it would lead to evictions of seniors and closing of small businesses.[20] The measure failed by 54%. However, in 2008 the measure was revived, modified to tax only large manufacturers; it passed by 51.5%.[20]

In 2009 the Chevron refinery agreed to pay the city of Richmond $28 million in back taxes that it had underpaid using questionable accounting practices.[21] The city will use $3 million to construct a portion of the Bay Trail between the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge Toll Plaza in the Point Richmond District along the city's western waterfront through Point Molate through to Point San Pablo.[21] Chevron has opposed the trail since it would cross oil pipelines connecting its refining facilities with the Richmond Long Wharf.[22] However, activists and California Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi have been pushing Chevron to allow this in exchange for allowing the company to renew its 30-year lease on state tidelands that lie at the site of its port.[22] In addition, the Richmond city council passed a resolution 8-1 directing mayor Gayle McLaughlin to ask the California State Land Use Commission to persuade Chevron to permit the trail.[1]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Chevron Access Needed for Richmond Bay Trail Link, by Geneviève Duboscq, The Berkeley Daily Planet, 27-03-2007, access date 06-04-2009
  2. ^ What We Do: The Refining Process, Chevron website, access date 05-16-2009
  3. ^ a b c d e The Early Years 1902 - 1914, Chevron website, access date 02-19-2009
  4. ^ a b Chevron Beginnings: W.S. Rheem, by Nilda Rego, Contra Costa Times, 01-18-2009, access date 02-19-2009
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Growth Through Research and Innovation 1915 - 1945, Chevron website, access date 05-16-2009
  6. ^ a b c Fueling the Peace and Protecting the Environment 1946 - 1970, Chevron website, access date 02-19-2009
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Building a World-class Organization 1971 - Present, Chevron website, access date 05-16-2009
  8. ^ Methyl tert-butyl ether, Wikipedia, access date 05-16-2009
  9. ^ Protecting the Air, Chevron website, access date 05-16-2009
  10. ^ a b Preserving and Restoring Natural Ecosystems, Chevron website, access date 05-16-2009
  11. ^ Corporate Donations, International Bird Rescue Research Center, access date 05-16-2009
  12. ^ Charter Document for the Richmond Community Benefits Advisory Committee, Richmond Community Benefits Advisory Committee, access date 05-16-2009
  13. ^ Neighborhood Air Quality Monitoring, Chevron website, access date 05-16-2009
  14. ^ Taking the Toxic Tour, Common Ground Magazine (note: contains inaccuracies), access date 05-16-2009
  15. ^ Richmond Heading for Boom Times After a Difficult Year. Benjamin Pimentel. 18-01-2006. San Francisco Chronicle.
  16. ^ a b c Protecting Water Quality, Chevron website, access date 05-16-2009
  17. ^ Safe Operations, Chevron website, access date 05-16-2009
  18. ^ Richmond, CA, Marine Spill Response Corporation, access date 05-16-2009
  19. ^ a b c Castro Cove/Chevron Richmond, CA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), retrieved August 1, 2007
  20. ^ a b Historic local victory points the way forward, by Bob Patenaude, People's Weekly World Newspaper, 19-02-2009, access date 19-02-2009
  21. ^ a b Chevron, Richmond Strike $28 Million Deal for Refinery Utility Taxes, by Katherine Tam, Oakland Tribune, 18-02-2009, access date 19-02-2009
  22. ^ a b Richmond Commits to Funding for Bay Trail at Refinery, by Katerine Tam, Oakland Tribune, 01-28-2009, access date 19-02-2009

External links

Coordinates: 37°55′53″N 122°23′27″W / 37.9313°N 122.3907°W / 37.9313; -122.3907

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