The Chevron oil spill reveals larger questions about the role of local politics in mitigating environmental disasters.

Yes, as many of you probably know by now, there was an oil spill at Chevron’s San Francisco Bay refinery. Over 600 gallons spilled at a rate of 5 gallons per minute, according to reports.

The spill began in the afternoon and took nearly 2 hours to contain it. For the sake of this post, I’m more interested in the PR response than restoration efforts.

Let’s examine corporate and civic responsibility alike, as Contra Costa County officials target blame at Chevron.


Busy? Try the speed read.

The scoop: 600 gallons of oil spilled into the San Francisco Bay from a Chevron refinery.

Some notes on the disaster:

  • Solutions exist, restoration efforts are more innovative, why does this keep happening?
  • Media tends to direct focus on corporations and federal government, but what role do local politics play in preventing environmental disasters?

Food for thought: Looking back at the Chevron oil spill of 2021, we should be asking ourselves:

  1. Why did the oil spill happen?
  2. What actors played a role in this disaster?
  3. What steps can these actors take to prevent it from ever happening again?

Bottom line: If the answer is primarily political, sadly, it may not happen fast enough to stop the next disaster.

Dig deeper → 3 min


Setting the scene

The oil spill prompted a health advisory for local residents warning about air quality. Migratory birds and seals in the surrounding ecosystem face existential threats.

For context, the natural area has yet to fully recover from the devastating Cosco Busan spill, pouring 500,000 gallons into the bay back in 2007.

County officials… silent

Let’s play the blame game.

When the media asked County officials for a response, they redirected questions to Chevron. It got me thinking… who are we looking to for answers? Do we blame the corporation for mismanagement or operational flaws, do we blame regulators for failed policy or execution? Is it a little bit of both?

Here’s an image Grist made back in 2010 about the Gulf oil spill. Who to blame?

The ‘let’s put 22% of the blame on the world for existing idea’ is a little outdated. We all know institutions are primarily responsible. But a little corporate blame, a little government blame, and a little people blame seems appropriate and level-headed at face value.

One thing I noticed though… all of the government blame is targeted at the federal level. I think it’s time we looked local.

I don’t think county officials were wrong to point blame at Chevron. It’s a good political move. The big bad corporations did it.

But at what point do we start blaming a misbehaved child in part for bad parenting? To what extent do local-level politicians control business conducted in their jurisdiction?

The buck stops far beyond Contra Costa, but the buck starts local.

Use existing solutions, be proactive

Fortunately (and unfortunately) for local politicians, there are preventative measures and potential solutions for environmental disasters and restoration efforts.

But did environmental risk mitigation play a major role in Chevron operations? If they do (I’m assuming they do), someone needs to be hired or fired.

At the government level, are regulations working? Let’s find out where we went wrong.

Putting the blame game aside, the surrounding ecosystem paid the consequences… while politicians, bureaucrats, and corporatists get a predictable paycheck next month.

The harsh truth… Chevron will not be the last oil spill

Last year, I wrote about how AI could have prevented the Mauritius oil spill. Has anything changed?

How many more oil spills, how many more cheesy Dawn soap commercials with oil-ridden ducks do we need to fix the problem?

We’re sending men and women to outer space with plans to colonize a foreign planet, but we can’t stop a big ship from leaking toxic chemicals?

Perhaps our collective unwillingness to solve environmental disasters is more a reflection of the national consciousness than we’d like to admit. Sure, it’s easy to get sucked into your kumbaya circles where it seems like the whole world cares about animals and nature.

But the more these disasters keep popping up, the more I’m starting to realize that most people just don’t care that much. Most of these county officials are probably Democrats. Most of them will probably get reelected because their name is familiar in their in column A.

What more can we do to stop it? I’m not being facetious, I want this to be open-ended.

Looking back at the Chevron oil spill of 2021, we should be asking ourselves:
  1. Why did the oil spill happen?
  2. What actors played a role in this disaster?
  3. What steps can these actors take to prevent it from ever happening again?

If the answer is primarily political, sadly, it may not happen fast enough to stop the next disaster.

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Comments to: Some revealing notes on the Chevron oil spill
Public officials in the bluest counties aren't doing enough.

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