Chevron talked about expansion plans

June 5, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Hundreds of people packed a high school auditorium in Richmond Thursday night to talk about Chevron's plan to expand its operation there. It's a contentious issue because it would mean hundreds of jobs, but some residents are worried about the trade-offs.

The meeting continued for more than four hours. Still, no decision from the Richmond Planning Commission which could green-light the project, turn it down, or send it back to Chevron for more information.

Plans to upgrade and expand Chevron's oil refinery in Richmond have been in the works for three years. Critics still aren't sure the time is right.

Opponents used a game show theme to make their point before the planning commission meeting.

"Here's the Chevron wheel of misfortune. Give it a real good spin and see what goodies you get," said a Chevron refinery opponent to a crowd gathered outside the meeting site. "You get 2 chronic headaches."

Among the 250 or so people who filled the Kennedy High School auditorium were supporters who were hoping to see 1,200 new jobs that Chevron says the project would create.

"Well, the more jobs we have, those are union jobs, the more of us members will go back to work. A lot of people are out of work right now. A lot of people are out of work," said Lawrence Miller from the Operating Engineers Local 3 Union.

Environmental concerns have been driving much of the opposition. Critics worry the $800 million upgrade will allow Chevron to process heavier crude, which they fear will pump more pollution into the air.

"This project is actually about expanding the capacity of the refinery to refine dirtier crude oil. That hasn't even been examined by this environmental impact report and we want them to send it back," said Roger Kim from the Asian Pacific Environmental Network.

The planning commission heard from an expert hired by the city and given access to Chevron documents who said the proposed upgrade would not allow for the processing of heavy crude.

"The refinery won't refine heavy crude after this project is built and it can't refine heavy crude now. The benefits of the project are we're going to have a more reliable refinery, reduced energy usage," said Dean O'Hair from Chevron.

City officials still want more information.

"I think the planning commission is looking at this critically and I think that's exactly what's called for. Myself, I think it's pretty simple. I don't think we have enough data from them," said Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin.

Whatever the decision by the planning commission, it's expected to be appealed to the full city council. Chevron says the upgrade will allow it to make more California-grade fuel, but the company can't say if that will lower gas prices.


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