This past February, I was in the middle of a Zoom meeting when my cell phone started buzzing. Texts were coming in from Richmond residents alerting us to an oil spill near Chevron’s tanker wharf. I quickly wrapped things up and called our field investigator—and happily discovered he was already on his way, because someone had also notified our hotline.
He was first on the scene, and deployed Baykeeper’s new drone before the response agencies arrived. Our drone (thank you for the generous donation, Autonomous Imagery!) was able to capture high-resolution imagery of the spill, including the image above, which we shared with both news media and regulatory agencies in real time.
I love stories like this of Baykeeper in action!
Unfortunately, the spill also revealed something disturbing. Our footage showed that Chevron’s initial response had failed. Oil had breached the company’s small yellow boom, and a rainbow sheen had spread to public beaches and sensitive eelgrass beds. Nonetheless, Chevron and state agencies produced an update on joint letterhead that proclaimed the response was perfect.
The Richmond City Council held an inquiry, where our staff attorney asked hard questions: Why was Chevron alerted to the spill by a local resident, rather than its own monitoring system? Why did the response agencies and the polluting company present a joint update, rather than an independent agency report that the public could better trust? How can we be sure that Chevron will maintain its infrastructure so it doesn’t pollute the Bay again? He concluded that this could have been a bigger disaster, but Chevron and the Bay just got lucky.
This spill made clear that we need to prevent accidents like this from happening, and also prepare for a future that no longer relies on dirty fossil fuels.
We can have both a healthy economy and environment if we create a thoughtful plan to move to clean energy, train workers for new opportunities, prepare cities for different economic realities, protect the environment from outdated infrastructure, and put the health of frontline communities first.
That’s why Baykeeper and our partners will continue to raise the alarm and advocate for justice. Together, we can take action for a Bay Area that’s free of dirty oil and healthier for everyone.
Wishing you—and the Bay—good health,
Sejal Choksi-Chugh, Executive Director