RICHMOND — A coalition of community groups marched on the Chevron refinery in Richmond on Saturday to protest the company's hotly debated new renovation project, shutting down city streets and leading to the arrest of several protesters.
The coalition, called Mobilization for Climate Justice, included about 200 protesters from the Richmond BART station to the gates of the refinery, where a "die-in" on Chevron property led to the arrests of 14 protesters for trespassing.
Otherwise, according to Richmond police Sgt. Bisa French, the event was "pretty peaceful."
The renovation project is on hold. Last month, a judge ordered construction to halt pending further environmental review after environmental groups sued Chevron and the city.
Protest leaders wanted to use Saturday's march to highlight the reasons behind the lawsuit, which contend the environmental impact report failed to disclose that the expansion project would enable the refinery to process crude oil with a higher sulfur content.
"We have to continue to utilize cleaner oil," said Antonia Juhasz, author and president of the community group Chevron Global Exchange. "With more sulfur we'll see more toxins."
Juhasz, who spoke at Saturday's protest, said with the expansion project on hold there is now an opportunity for the oil giant to listen to the voices in the community. She pointed out any increase in the sulfur levels from what the refinery already processes
"We're all for a cleaner refinery," she said. "We want the cleanest refinery possible."
Chevron spokesman Dean O'Hair said a cleaner refinery is just what the company is trying to achieve with its renovation project.
He said the Richmond refinery has been in operation since 1902 and periodic renovation projects are as essential as they are routine. Some of the equipment slated to be renovated is nearly 80 years old, he said.
O'Hair pointed out that Chevron is merely trying to adapt to its present reality.