|Chevron Finally Pulls The Plug On Richmond
April 1, 2006
In a surprise move that has decision makers scrambling as never before for answers, Chevron announced late yesterday plans for a phased shutdown of the Richmond Refinery.
"Frankly," said spokesman Dean O’Hair, "we can manufacture product offshore and ship it to the U.S. market for a lot less than it costs to make it here."
"It just doesn’t make economic sense for our shareholders," continued O’Hair. "In the last year or two, they’ve seen the kind of profits that can be made in the oil business, and they are clamoring for more."
Speculation about Chevron pulling out of Richmond is not new, but many people thought it would never happen. Apparently, it was more than economics that drove the decision. One Chevron executive who asked not to be identified, complained, "First it was that dad gum casino project at Point Molate; then they raised the utility tax on us. The next thing you know, Gayle McLaughlin is running for mayor. If she gets elected, she’ll bleed us dry."
There were, however, a couple of pieces of good news. Chevron will have to maintain part of the infrastructure as a port, storage and distribution facility for petroleum products refined offshore, probably in China, and imported for the U.S. market, which shows no sign of diminishing. Also, Chevron is considering converting part of the complex into the largest solar photovoltaic manufacturing facility in the U.S.
Jim Brumfield, another Richmond public affairs spokesman in Richmond, noted that the U.S. constitutes only 7% of the world’s solar photovoltaic market right now, but that is expected to take off in the near future. "Chevron is no stranger to alternative energy," noted Brumfield, "Several years ago, we acquired Viron and renamed it Chevron Energy Solutions. The Chevron subsidiary is already a leading installer of photovoltaic and fuel cell technology. In fact, few are aware that Chevron Energy Solutions installed a large array of photovoltaic panels atop the Richmond Memorial Convention Center."
"Although we are no longer going to make conventional fuels in Richmond," said Brumfield, "we felt a moral obligation to leave some jobs in Richmond. Who knows, this PV [photovoltaic] thing may be hotter than gasoline someday."
O’Hair chimed in, "I’m sure you’ve seen the Chevron ads about running out of oil. That’s not just greenwashing. Nobody knows better than us that the end of a petroleum based economy is near. We want to make sure our shareholders are protected when that day comes."
In a hastily assembled late night press conference that turned into a de facto City Council meeting, Mayor Anderson asked councilmembers join her in leading a convoy of Richmond community organizations to San Ramon first thing Monday morning to personally confront Chevron’s top management and petition for reconsideration. "You can’t imagine what this could mean for Richmond, said Anderson. "We’d have to put a Target store on every street corner in Richmond and a Toll Brothers building on every vacant lot to make up for the tax revenue loss. We might as well just turn off the lights and go home."
Reaction was mixed on the City Council. Bates and Griffin figured it was inevitable. "That’s why we need that casino at Point Molate,’ said Bates. "It will make up the loss and then some." "What we need are more casinos," said Griffin. "We can literally gamble our way out of this."
Thurmond was philosophical, calling for the City to step up with an emergency jobs program to retrain laid off refinery workers. "If we start now," emphasized Thurmond, "we can get ahead of the curve and keep these people as productive citizens."
Rogers seemed more concerned about a technical violation of the Brown Act for the unannounced emergency session, but when he couldn’t get a response from the city attorney, he went off on the rest of the Council. "I told you if you kept rezoning commercial land for residential purposes, something like this would happen. Now we’re in a real mess."
When her turn came, Viramontes launched into a historical explanation of how and why we got here. Starting with Chevron’s predecessor buying Richmond swampland in 1900, she was just getting into the 1973 oil crises some 20 minutes later when the mayor gaveled her down. "We appreciate the background, Maria," chided Anderson, "but it’s now today, and we have to deal with tomorrow."
Marquez then jumped into the fray. "I have a plan. Tomorrow is Sunday, and I have asked every congregation in Richmond to focus on this grave threat to our future. I believe that we can, in fact, pray our way out of this if we all do it together. The time I have selected is exactly 11:30 AM. It is imperative; however, that no one gets confused by daylight savings time. That could throw off the whole effort."
McLaughlin was last to speak, but surprised many with her twist on the crisis. "With Solar Richmond and all that, you’d think I’d be ecstatic. But the last thing in the world we want is a corporation like Chevron cornering the solar business. Solar energy should be free to everyone, and if there is money to be made, it should be made by mom and pop businesses paying a union wage with real benefits." If the City Council has anything to say about this, I’ll vote against it."
As for me, I wish you a happy April Fools Day!