Chevron Richmond refinery flare visible in East Bay

RICHMOND — An unspecified equipment issue at the Chevron refinery led to flaring Thursday evening, officials said, with smoke visible for miles around the facility.

Around 6:25 p.m., reports of smoke plumes over the refinery drew multiple posts to social media.

Chevron Richmond officials did not immediately respond to a request for information about the incident, but sent a hazardous-materials spill report to the state Office of Emergency Services.

In that report, posted to social media by KQED reporter Ted Goldberg, refinery staff said the incident began at 5:40 p.m., with no injuries or fatalities and no reported evacuation.

Randy Sawyer of Contra Costa County’s Health Services department, who oversees hazmat response, said the incident appeared to be a plant upset at the refinery, where gases in process were sent to a flaring system to be burned off.

The county did not activate its community warning system alert, and there were no plans to ask residents to shelter in place as a result, Sawyer said, adding that county staff were sending a crew to monitor conditions near the refinery on Thursday evening and that officials may ask Chevron to provide a report explaining what triggered the incident.

In a social-media post Thursday evening, Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia expressed his frustration with what he described as “how frequent their flaring is occurring.”

According to this news organization’s reporting, the refinery saw multiple flaring reports last year, including two straight days in February 2020 and an August 2020 episode. Residents’ memories of a leak that sent hundreds of gallons of oil and water into San Francisco Bay this February are still fresh.

“We expect industry to operate at the highest level with no room for error, because error causes harm to life,” Gioia told this news organization last February. “We coexist with industry in the area, which is why we have high regulatory standards. When you operate industry in an urban environment, there needs to be precautions to protect life.”

Anyone with questions may call the refinery’s general number at 510-242-2000, ask about specific noises or odors at 510-242-2127, or email

Contact George Kelly at 408-859-5180.

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Author: George Kelly