Chevron and fire-agency crews respond to a five-gallon-per-minute petroleum product leak in the waters of Point Richmond as an absorbent boom is placed next to the Chevron Richmond Long Wharf in Richmond, Calif., on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. (Photo by Ray Chavez/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images)
Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.An oil spill at Chevron’s Bay Area refinery spewed 600 gallons of a toxic petroleum-water mixture into the San Francisco Bay at a rate of five gallons per minute. Now, the county seemingly wants nothing to do with it.The leak, which started Tuesday afternoon and lasted approximately two hours before being contained, left the bay’s water glossed with brown and purple iridescence for hundreds of feet along the shore. The waters near the Chevron Richmond Refinery won’t be completely clean of the contaminants for some time.
“I'm really devastated,” local resident Margaret Berczynski told ABC7. “I cannot take my kids to the water, I cannot walk on water, I cannot enjoy it. I'm really scared.”After they wafted ashore, fumes caused by the high concentration of oil from the spill posed an immediate threat to air quality and prompted a public health advisory to go into place. John Gioia, Contra Costa County’s District 1 supervisor, tweeted out a warning that residents, especially those with sensitive respiratory issues, should stay inside to avoid skin, nose, and eye irritation. The spill impacted some of the area’s poorest neighborhoods—Richmond, North Richmond, and San Pablo. These are primarily communities of color and face much higher levels of poverty compared to other zip codes in the Bay Area. According to NBC Bay Area, migratory birds, as well as seals, may also be at severe risk from the spill—part of an ecosystem still recovering from the Cosco Busan oil spill in 2007, which dumped 500,000 gallons of oil into the bay’s waters. But when VICE News reached out to Contra County Health Services about how the spill would impact the environment and the surrounding communities, the county directed questions to Chevron.
VICE News asked for a report on the environmental impact of the spill, as well as an economic breakdown of the impacted neighborhood’s Environmental disasters, like oil spills, often hit low-income areas the hardest because they have fewer public health resources to protect residents. The county sent VICE News to one of Chevron’s “external affairs” advisors, Tyler Kruzich. According to Kruzich, federal, state, and local agencies “have a direct command” of communication set up to work with the fossil fuel company in handling the media for this spill.“We are investigating the cause of this incident in partnership with federal, state, and local jurisdictions,” Kruzich said in an email. “We will learn from this incident and we will take appropriate measures to minimize a recurrence.”“Chevron’s Richmond Refinery workforce takes its role as good neighbors seriously and is continually working to reduce our environmental footprint and to improve reliability,” he continued.Kruzich did not respond to VICE News’s questions about why Contra Costa County is directing comments to the company instead of answering questions themselves.It’s usually common practice for local government agencies to hold private entities accountable for effects they have on the community. But Contra Costa County doesn’t appear to be following the norm. “We received your message. We are directing all media calls regarding the incident to the response PIO,” Contra Costa County’s email said to VICE News. Originally, in a phone call, a county spokesperson said they could provide both an environmental report and neighborhood economic breakdown. No news yet on what caused the leak or what lasting effects the spill will have on the community.