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SF Bay Refineries Among Worst Water Polluters

Report states oil refineries dump millions of pounds of poison pollutants into the Bay.

A national study of water pollution from oil refineries reveals that Bay Area refineries are among the worst polluters, including the Chevron Richmond and Valero Benicia refineries. Chevron is the frequent subject of complaints to the San Francisco Baykeeper pollution hotline, and Baykeeper is currently suing Valero for spilling toxic petroleum coke into the Bay.

Alameda Post - two photos side by side. On the left, a black splotch of oil in the ocean is being partly contained by a yellow barrior. On the right, a small fish is sitting next to a ruler. It has a spinal deformity that makes it bend back and forth
Left: Oil pipeline at the Chevron Richmond Refinery spilling more than 700 gallons of diesel mixture into an ecologically sensitive area of the Bay in February 2021. Right: U.S. refineries discharged about 60,000 pounds of selenium into waterways in 2021. Selenium can be toxic to fish and is likely the cause of the spinal deformity occurring in the pictured Sacramento splittail. Photos: Environmental Integrity Project.

The report, authored by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), also concludes that EPA is failing in its legal responsibilities to regulate the half billion gallons of wastewater a day that pours out of U.S. refineries, loaded with nitrogen, industrial salts, cyanide, arsenic, chromium, selenium, and other pollutants.

“It’s high time for EPA to crack down on the toxic pollution from oil refineries that’s threatening both wildlife and human health around San Francisco Bay, and across the country,” said SF Baykeeper executive director Sejal Choksi-Chugh. “It’s offensive to our frontline communities that EPA has failed to require refineries to reduce the amount of many pollutants that they dump into the Bay, let alone regulate them.”

Alameda Post - an infographic that says "Refineries often exceed their effluent limits, but seldom are penalized. 81 refineries discharge directly to waterways. 67 refineries reported enough pollution from 2019 to 2021 to exceed their pollution limits. 15 refineries were penalized for water pollution violations from 2019 to 2021. Source: EPA ECHO database. The 67 refineries with effluent exceedances from 2019 to 2021 had one or more permit violation flagged by EPA, but they were not necessarily charged or adjudicated in court. Penalties often do not happen in the same year as associated violations.

The EIP report examined the records of 81 refineries across the USA. In 2021, four Northern California refineries—including the Chevron Richmond and Valero Benicia refineries—dumped into tributaries to the San Francisco Bay at least 1,057 pounds of selenium, 1.2 million pounds of total nitrogen, 32,298 pounds of oil and grease, 525 pounds of arsenic, 271 pounds of lead and lead compounds, 196 pounds of cyanide, and 142 pounds of hexavalent chromium, among other pollutants.

The single greatest source of selenium pollution in the Bay is the PBF Martinez refinery. Its discharge permit allows the refinery to continue discharging selenium at the same rate it has done since the early 2000s, despite known harm to the Bay’s fish populations and potential danger to people who depend on fish from the Bay.

“Baykeeper will continue to hold polluters accountable and to push lax government agencies to live up to their obligations to protect the Bay and the people of the Bay Area,” said Choksi-Chugh.

This article was provided by San Francisco Baykeeper, who defends the health of San Francisco Bay, its watershed, and Bay Area residents. Read more at

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