Now in its second century of operation, the Richmond Refinery continues to rank among the major refineries in the United States. Its consistent growth has confirmed its significant place within Chevron’s worldwide manufacturing network. Throughout, it has also sustained a close relationship with the community and conducted its business in a way that is compatible with its neighbors and the environment.
At the same time, it has demonstrated the flexibility needed to survive in a dramatically changed operating environment. This was never more evident than during the 1970s and 1980s, when the refinery was virtually transformed to produce higher-value, higher-volume fuels and lubricating oils and to comply with increasingly stringent state and federal policies. These policies called for the refinery to reduce air emissions and waste, treat water, and prevent oil spills.
In conformity with federal mandates, the company substantially increased its capability to manufacture reduced-lead gasolines by installing new reforming capacity at Richmond and three other U.S. refineries in 1971. Four years later, the refinery added a desulfurization unit, enabling it to manufacture more than 160,000 additional barrels of low-sulfur fuel oil, primarily to supply the growing needs of California electric utility companies. The expansion was also designed to process greater quantities of high-sulfur crudes and products that met environmental specifications. Concurrent with the expansion, the refinery built two 750,000-barrel storage tanks, the largest in the United States, to receive marine cargoes.
In 1979, a worldwide shortage of crude oil, along with a shift in the availability of quality crudes, presented critical challenges to the company’s manufacturing operations. Chevron subsequently invested more than $2 million in its U.S. refineries, improving their flexibility for handling different types of crude oil, responding to changing product standards, installing energy conservation equipment, and complying with environmental or regulatory requirements.
During the 1980s, the Richmond Refinery continued to grow and diversify. Early in the decade, the installation of a $17 million direct digital computer control system enabled the Isomax plant to produce higher-grade products and reduce energy consumption by 250,000 barrels per year. And in 1984, the construction of a major lubricating oil manufacturing plant increased Richmond’s lube oil base-stock output from 3,800 to 8,500 barrels a day, using hydrocracking and hydrorefining processes developed by Chevron Research.
The refinery’s growth was mirrored by a steady increase in Richmond’s population from about approximately 70,000 in 1975 to 87,000 in 1990 and to 101,000 by 2003. A harbor redevelopment project, new housing growth, and the sustained job creation and other economic benefits afforded through the presence of Chevron (the city’s largest employer) and other leading corporations contributed to this growth.
During the 1990s, the refinery continued to produce new, upgraded products, including Chevron Plus Unleaded gasoline, which replaced regular leaded gasoline in California beginning in 1992; MTBE, a high-oxygen gasoline component; and a reformulated gasoline that met mandated federal and California standards to improve air quality. In 1992, the Richmond plant also completed the first of two cogeneration projects to produce electricity and process steam. The project helped cut operating costs by reducing refining capacity.
A major research breakthrough came in 1993, when Chevron introduced Isodewaxing technology, which maximized the production of base oils with superior qualities while co-producing higher-value light products. The technology enabled Chevron and its many licensees to economically produce base oils that meet specifications calling for lighter-viscosity lubricant grades.
The new century brought a major celebration: the 100th anniversary of the Richmond Refinery in 2002. At the time of its centennial, the plant had over 1,300 employees and was spread over 2,900 acres containing six Area Business Units with 30 operating plants, two Cogen Plants, five boilers and the ability to move 340,000 barrels a day of raw materials and finished products across its long wharf. By 2006, the refinery had a capacity of 225,000 barrels a day and processed more crude oil than any other plant in the Bay Area and ranked among the major refineries in the U.S.
Integral to the refinery’s growth has been the unstinting regard for safety among its dedicated workforce. The company’s safety policy is rooted in the belief that all incidents and injuries are preventable. It backs up this belief by ensuring that all employees are educated in compliance with safety regulations and receive extensive safety training in their specific duties.
In 2002, when the refinery celebrated its 100th anniversary, it accomplished a cultural change that resulted in its best-ever safety record. For the year, employees worked 3 million hours with just five recordable injures, down from 12 in 2001. Refinery manager Rick Zalesky explained, “We want to be a world-class organization, and we are willing to do something different to get there.”
That “something different” that sparked the transformation at Richmond was a safety program called Triangle of Prevention (TCP). The union-led, management-supported program focuses on the accidents that don’t happen—the near misses—and TCP’s foundation in respect. A systems-based approach, TCP recognizes near misses as important warning signals. Because no blame is assigned, employees feel freer to submit reports on their own near misses without fear of reprisal. Each near miss is investigated by a partnership of two investigators—one union, one nonunion—who come to the root cause of a problem and jointly determine corrective action. Once the flaw is identified, it is fixed. Richmond was the first refinery within Chevron to adopt the TOP strategy.
The refinery’s emphasis on safe operations has been matched by its respect for the environment. Over the past 15 years, the refinery has invested more than $286 million to install major emissions-control equipment, improve its waste-treatment processes, dispose with refinery wastes, produce unleaded gasolines that meet stringent federal and state standards, reduce the amount of energy required to process each barrel of crude, and improve the plant’s treatment of its effluent. Chevron’s reputation as a leader in environmental protection is epitomized by its SMART (Save Money and Reduce Toxins) project, which reduced hazardous waste levels by more than 60 percent from 1986 through 1990 and cut freshwater usage by 30 percent in that same period.
The refinery has also made great strides in restoring natural ecosystems. These efforts include the creation of the Richmond Water Enhancement Wetland, a 90-acre preserve for many plant and animal species; the restoration of Wildcat Creek Marsh, a 250-acre natural wetland; and contributions to such organizations as the East Bay-based International Bird Rescue and Research Center.
As the refinery moves forward in its second century of operations, it can look with pride to its record as a major industrial complex, employer, involved member of the community, and contributor to the wider economy.