Dirty Dinosaurs Lurking Around the Bay

I understand the mindset of the people who decided to build dirty, dangerous oil refineries on the gorgeous San Francisco Bay shoreline.

The Chevron oil refinery on the shoreline of San Francisco Bay in Richmond. Five local oil refineries threaten the Bay in many ways. Photo by Robb Most


Published: February, 2019


I understand the mindset of the people who decided to build dirty, dangerous oil refineries on the gorgeous San Francisco Bay shoreline.


Many decades ago, they likely envisioned sites around the Bay where tanker ships could easily dock and offload crude oil. They saw an endless source of cooling water for refining processes that often reach temperatures over 1,000 degrees. And the waters offered a cheap and convenient place to dump waste.


The oil industry put five refineries in the North Bay, two in Martinez and one each in Richmond, Rodeo, and Benicia. These were optimal sites where they could turn crude oil—the thick, dark liquid pumped up from distant oil wells—into products that included gasoline, motor oil, jet fuel and asphalt. And our fossil-fuel culture relied on these products for decades.


We still depend on the refineries. But our shifting collective wisdom suggests these old dinosaurs may soon become relics. For life on our planet to thrive, they’ll need to go extinct and be replaced by cleaner sources of energy.


Oil refineries threaten our lives and the Bay in many ways:

Hundreds of tanker ships haul oil on the Bay every year. That oil has been spilled in the Bay countless times, including at the Phillips 66 Rodeo refinery in 2016 and 2017.

A vast network of corroding pipelines carries oil to Bay Area refineries. A pipeline leak can lead to a disaster like the 2015 Santa Barbara spill that polluted scenic beaches with over 100,000 gallons of oil.

Oil trains bring oil here on tracks along the Bay and through local communities. The 2016 oil train derailment in Oregon caused a 13-hour fire and contaminated the Columbia River.

While refineries are no longer allowed to dump waste directly into the Bay, they still discharge treated wastewater in our waters. Flawed regulations don’t require sufficient removal of toxins like selenium and mercury.

Refineries emit tiny toxic particles that fall into the Bay and nearby neighborhoods. Meaning people living near refineries have higher rates of respiratory diseases and other serious illnesses.

Oil refining also creates byproducts that, when burned, contribute to the greenhouse gases that cause climate breakdown.


Despite these enormous risks, the oil industry wants to expand Bay Area refineries rather than bring them to extinction. Incredibly, their goal is to transport millions more barrels of crude oil to the Bay for processing and exporting to other countries.


Baykeeper’s lawyers and scientists are standing firm to protect the Bay from the increased threats posed by these growing dinosaurs.


Along with a coalition of environmental and community groups, we’re on the front lines stopping industry expansions. We’ve stopped two growth plans, one proposed for a Pittsburg oil storage facility, the other at the Valero refinery in Benicia. And now we’re opposing Phillips 66’s proposal to double the number of tanker ships carrying oil across the Bay to its refinery.


To safeguard the Bay from oil spills, we helped pass laws that protect the Bay from oil pipelines and trains. These new laws also improve oil spill prevention measures and cleanup when spills occur. We meet often with government agencies tasked with oil spill prevention and cleanup to ensure they properly implement rules protecting the Bay. And we advocate for tougher restrictions on refinery wastewater pollution.


You can be a part of defending San Francisco Bay from the threat of refinery expansions—and help us bring these dirty dinosaurs lurking around the Bay to extinction. To get started, sign up for Baykeeper’s monthly e-news at baykeeper.org.


Sejal Choksi-Chugh is the Executive Director of San Francisco Baykeeper. Since 1989, Baykeeper has been defending San Francisco Bay from the biggest threats and holding polluters accountable. To report pollution in the Bay, call Baykeeper’s hotline at 1-800-KEEP-BAY (1-800-533-7229), e-mail hotline@baykeeper.org, or click “Report Pollution” at baykeeper.org.