When the Bay Smells Like a Gas Station

Feb 24, 2021

Two weeks ago, an oil pipeline at the Chevron refinery in Richmond leaked, spilling more than 700 gallons of diesel mixture into the Bay. Authorities closed nearby Keller Beach and issued a public health advisory for toxic fumes and contaminated water.

"The whole area smells like a gas station,” Baykeeper Executive Director Sejal Choksi-Chugh said in an interview, “And there's the possibility of long-term, unknown damage to the Bay itself and to all the wildlife that depend on it."

Baykeeper Field Investigator Cole Burchiel was one of the first people on the scene with our trusty patrol drone, Osprey. Our drone footage revealed that the oil had breached Chevron’s small boom next to the source of the leak, spreading out into a wide sheen. By the following day, the sheen had spread several miles.

The area affected by the spill included sensitive eelgrass habitat at Point Molate and an important spawning ground for local herring populations. A group of fishermen have since sued Chevron for negligence.

But the spill could have been even worse. “This was a warning shot quite literally just off of Richmond’s bow,” Baykeeper Staff Attorney Ben Eichenberg said at a Richmond City Council meeting on February 16. Chevron’s detection system failed to warn of a problem as soon as the leak started, and it’s only by luck and notification by local residents that more oil wasn’t spilled and that it wasn’t a heavier fuel, which Chevron is known to transport through their pipes.

This latest spill is one of many underscoring the need not just for improved spill response, clean up, and regular pipeline maintenance—but also for a just transition away from the toxic oil industry entirely.


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