For most community members, it was their first up-close look at the Chevron Richmond Refinery.
But for Dr. Henry Clark, it marked a milestone in environmental justice.
On Saturday, Oct. 19, hundreds of community members attended Chevron Richmond’s annual Community Tour Day at the 2,900-acre Richmond Refinery, where through bus tours and information booths they learned what goes into the complex operation that produces nearly 70 percent of the jet fuel for San Francisco International Airport, about a quarter of the gasoline produced in the Bay Area, and the only lubricating base oils on the West Coast.
“We’re here to show the community our Refinery, to open our doors if you will,” Refinery General Manager Alan Davis said.
Tours of the Refinery are nothing new to Dr. Clark, a well-known, longtime environmental activists from North Richmond. This particular event, however, was special: Saturday marked Dr. Clark’s first view of the nearly-completed $1 billion Richmond Refinery Modernization Project.
Approved by City Council in 2014, the modernization project replaced some of the refinery’s oldest processing equipment with newer technologies that are inherently safer and help meet the nation’s toughest air quality standards. As part of modernization, a 1960s hydrogen plant was replaced with a modern version that is 20 percent more energy efficient.
Dr. Clark played a significant role in supporting the environmental and safety commitments made by the project. He also is appreciative of the $90 million in community benefits benefiting Richmond and North Richmond that includes greenhouse gas emissions reduction measures, the Richmond Promise college scholarship program, a large solar farm on refinery property and nonprofit grants geared toward community improvement projects.
“I’m really proud to be part of that process,” Dr. Clark said. “To realize a project that makes the refinery operate more safely and reduces emissions, to me that’s historic.”
Many residents attending Community Tour Day had never been inside a refinery. Bus tours every 15 minutes brought residents through each step of the refinery’s processes, from when crude oil arrives by ship along its long wharf, to when it is distilled, reformed and converted into transportation fuels and lubricating base oils. The Refinery’s water treatment plant certainly impressed — a small man-made lake treats process water to the point where it meets strict clean water standards. The refinery has the capacity to meet approximately 60 percent of its water needs with recycled water.
Meanwhile on the Refinery campus, community members visited booths to learn directly from Chevron employees and contractors about how the refinery leverages technology, from ultrasonic and radiographic monitoring of piping to ensure their integrity, to the system of air monitors in the community that provides real-time, online data on local air quality. Community members also learned the ins-and-outs of fuel additives such as Techron that make vehicle engines cleaner and more efficient.
“I love showing off these technologies,” said Blake Rosberg, who works in the Maintenance and Reliability group at Chevron. “We’re using the newest and best technologies that can find anything that could be wrong out there in the Refinery.”
Chevron employees did their best to break down complex processes in chemistry and technology for their audience. But the tour wasn’t all technical – there was family fun, too.
The Chevron-sponsored Mobile Fab Lab, which normally brings cutting edge fabrication technologies to local schools and community centers, parked at the Refinery to conduct STEM-related activities with kids.
For Uma Kand and his wife, Prajati, the tour wasn’t just about learning how a Refinery operates. Rather, it was a way to expose their young daughter, Aabya, to STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
“We want her to be exposed early to the sciences,” Prajati said.
Kids also got to meet representatives from the 30-member Chevron Richmond Fire Department, which offered fire hats and insight into their efforts to keep the refinery, its employees and the communities safe.
“A lot of us have been in this for a long time,” Chevron Richmond Fire Chief Greg Bosworth said. “We have a heart for people and we are greatly invested in making sure the community, the employees, the assets and the environment are safe at all times. This event is to bring awareness that the Refinery is here for the good of the community, and to run a safe and successful business.”
Over 1,200 employees work at the Chevron Refinery, along with another 800 or so contractors. They view their roles as energy-providers with great care and pride and enjoy the opportunity to show the community how they do it, Davis said.
“We get moms and dads to work, grandparents on planes to see kids for vacations, kids to soccer games. All those sorts of things,” Davis said. “Energy is essential to improving people’s lives. We’re proud of what we do to enable human progress, and we’re proud to share our work with our neighbors.”