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Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Bad Neighbors

File:Chevron Richmond Refinery Fire 2012 -02.jpg

Fire at the Chevron Richmond Refinery as seen from the Tiburon Peninsula, 6 August 2012: photo by Frank Schulenberg

With the breaking of dawn a whitish yellow pall hangs over the sky to the north, where the big Chevron refinery exploded last night. The resulting blaze tore through the giant refinery, spewing sulfuric acid and nitrogen dioxide and sending a toxic smoke plume 4000 feet into the air. Nearby residents were advised by an automated telephone warning system to "shelter in place". “Go inside, shut your doors and windows. Keep the outside air, the smoke, from getting inside your home.”  In the crepuscular haze, people fled to hospitals with burning eyes and breathing problems.

A Chevron spokesman apologized for “inconveniencing our neighbors.”

The main distillation unit at the Chevron installation in Richmond produces about one eighth of California’s refined oil.
Downtown later in the night I was sorting out the emergency preparedness news items as they came in through my one-earplug walkman radio.

A facemasked young man on a bike stopped and called out, "Hey, you shouldn't be out here without a mask. I'd give you one, but I just gave away the last one I had. Except the two that I'm wearing. You really need to double your mask, or the fine particulates will get through."

This act of good Samaritanism touched the ancient flinty heart. I hobbled on unmasked into the darkness toward the Tunnel, beyond which lay The Cloud.

Time was, as some decades back when the poem below was writ, it remained possible to see in these chemical fires started by our Bad Neighbors a strange end-of-species aesthetic glamour. Now, not so much.

First cold winter twilights despite this
week’s Richmond refinery fire
never more perfect even the
burned and corrupt air stunning
saffron violet orange indigo
becoming blood red as sun descends
with a delayed shudder or retarded
tremor into ocean fire
and night begins to close in
over the whole sky from other
(eastern) end -- a deep blue bowl

or dish inverted convex
glass dome extruded
pyrex lid over boundless
now starless ozone
depleted spaces of end
times -- last hundred years of
human habitation? -- rendering
in view of coming loss
earth in ever more damaged form
ever more beautiful than before

"First cold winter twilights..." from Sleepwalker's Fate, 1992


Chevron Said to Be Shutting California Refinery on Fire

Smoke pours from a fire at the Chevron Richmond Refinery, seen behind Alcatraz Island in San Francisco, 6 August 2012: photo by Eric Risberg/AP

Firefighters douse a flame at the Chevron oil refinery in in Richmond, California August 6, 2012 (Reuters / Josh Edelson)

Firefighters douse a flame at the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, California, 6 August 2012: photo by Josh Edelson/Reuters

Fire at the Chevron Refinery in Richmond as seen from Tiburon, Calif. on Monday August 6th,  2012. Photo: John Storey, Special To The Chronicle / SF

Fire at the Chevron Refinery in Richmond as seen from Tiburon, California, 6 August 2012: photo by Eric Storey/San Francisco Chronicle
File:Chevron Richmond Refinery Fire 2012 -01.jpg
 Fire at the Chevron Richmond Refinery as seen from the Tiburon Peninsula, 6 August 2012: photo by Frank Schulenberg


Susan Kay Anderson said...

"...last hundred years of /human habitation?--rendering/"

We boil off the fat
from the fat ozone
we cannot see--
we are so concrete
but when it comes
to the most crucial
we are blind
to what is in front
of us
beyond our wildest
dreams never stopping
its burning
into our brains
The Tunnel
The Cloud
so easy to start
only a genius
can put them out
Close your eyes
and you can still
see the gold

TC said...

We have these refinery fires every now and again, just up the road. The closest fallout victims are poor, black, aggrieved, and without voice. It's only the knock-on effect on local oil prices that the middle classes really care about. The apologetic p.r. spokespersons of the oil companies are blonde, well groomed, and so concerned about "the community" (where of course they will never have set actual foot -- as Alfred Hayes might have had it).

Susan Kay Anderson said...

are you there?
next to my heart
my badge

I belong
to the Clan of the
Care Bears
yes I meant that
in this cave
I'm bored
and want to know
what to do
with all this
make some junk
ruin my bed
in front of
behind the others
pay for it
practically free

you get used
and used
until you
finally become
worth your
weight in gold
heavy as the dead
more expensive
it was cleanest
can you imagine?

TC said...

In the early hours, the spokesperson impeccably assured us that the water used to put out the fire would not enter the environment.

"Which is quite a trick," commented the companion.

"You get the feeling it's a kind of Fukushima-say-anything-after-the-accident damage control."

At the peak, or should one say nadir, of the toxic plume event, the toll takers on the Richmond-San Rafael Bride simply (and sensibly) vamoosed.

Missing in action, were those valiant tollbooth warriors.

Drivers with windows rolled up tight and clenched facemasks rolled through the poison zone without paying.

But it turns out there's no free toxic lunch after all.

Later it was announced that the non-payers' license plate numbers are recorded on camera, and they will get a bill for the toll.

Ed Baker said...

you should have seen Richmond in 1973 when I moved there. I lasted about 3 weeks... woke up one morning and vomited from inhaling the air ... went into Berkley
and Sf to finish some (business) then

got the hell out of California went north were that smoke/soot followed me all the way to Seattle !

sure is nice to see that our "pollution controls" are NOW working ! just another metaphorical war ? like the "War on Poverty? the War of Drugs? the War on Illegals? the war on Them ?

wow that War on Pollution has been making some folks very wealthy !



Let's hear it for "those valiant tollbooth warriors" who "simply (and sensibly) vamoosed," that "facemasked young man on a bike" and all those unnamed and voiceless "nearby residents" of the neighborhood, to whom Mother Chevron has so graciously apologized for possibly having inconvenienced them, alas.


silver circle of sun rising above black
plane of ridge, bee landing on lavender
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

before bodies, distribution
of mass then was that

since, as has been observed,
seemed can be present

silver of sunlight reflected in channel,
waning white moon in cloudless blue sky

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Across across
the desire to go
not there

cloud please
disappear from
old San Fran
from estuary
memory is
bird seal clam
whale everything
find those shoes
you have not used
for awhile
dig down


More --

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

Ah, shucks, Tom, nothing to get hot around the collar at—such shenanigans are always coolly handled by corporate hotshot PR dickheads who simply piss on all of us.

Wooden Boy said...

That poem of yours does capture some of that apocalyptic beauty - I'm remembering watching the refinery fires from The Mumbles across Swansea Bay, compelling and very troubling.

Writing poetry at such a moment can give us the ethical shivers, but the poems happen and they can be as exquisite as this one.

I'm glad you wrote it, TC.

TC said...

From the news story Steve links to:

"'I looked out the window and saw 40 foot flames and black smoke,' Marc Mowrey, a Point Richmond resident who lives about a mile from the plant, said in a telephone interview.

"He said the smell was not exceptional or very different from other days, but a huge plume of smoke was sitting over Richmond and neighboring El Cerrito."

In other words, being slowly poisoned, sacrificing your breathing systems to the Imperial lifestyle, is merely business as usual in these parts. It's just the forty foot black smoke plume that gets your attention, sharpish.

That apocalyptic beauty of which WB speaks has for some time now intermittently suffused California's polluted coastal sunsets with what might seem a tragic depth; though properly speaking the lurid coloured landscapes thus created out of the paintbox of human folly would now begin to seem less noble, even, than that; from outer space all these artificial chromatics might even appear the signs of a sort of suicidal baroque comedy.

(Not that the sunsets would be all that much cleaner without "our" refineries; the steadily-streaming incoming-jetstream Chinese emission load is always up there, out there, in here, all about us, thickening the lethal carbon impasto.)

Curtis Faville said...

A few observations--

If you think the media has a chance at reporting any part of the truth of this event, consider how much money it takes to buy anyone off. Do you want a boat? Do you want a European education for your kids? Do you want a vacation condo in Vail? Or would cold cash suffice?

Is any media entity secure enough in its standing to resist the power of oil money? Not bloody likely.

Interesting that all the local television media refused to release maps of the affected areas, or to specify what kinds of poisons were being released, and what their probable effects would be.

The real news stories in the Bay Area are the price-fixing by the major petroleum companies, and the rampant pollution they're spreading throughout the region. Check out the lung cancer rates in Richmond. My old next-door neighbor was an executive at Chevron, who died of lung cancer two years after he retired. "It's okay, they supported me for 30 years and put my kids through school, I forgive them."

Meanwhile, there's that little puppy trapped in a sewer line in Redwood City. "Hello, Tammy! On location at the entry site to the line. What's the latest, Tammy?" "Well, rescuers have gotten about 15 feet in, and they can see Bip, but they can't quite reach him. They think they may be able to coax him out with an offer of food. They won't give up. They won't let Bip die there. They're going to do whatever it takes! This is Tammy of Channel 8 News, reporting."

Susan Kay Anderson said...

I'll take Vail
without the condo
I'll take the bike path
to the bridge
that crosses the creek
and kiss
my favorite aspen
the one
Pacomio Chacon
drew on
his women, his name,
his birds and deer
feathers, hair, and swirls

Ed Baker said...

try this
and notice the demographics:

I bet UHAUL a copy of my newest book

what? 30 + years after this study that Richmond is now
85 % white retired EDUCATED folks with at least 40% of their retirement portfolio income coming in from Chevron (and the other Big Oil Companies !

I tell you, I wouldn't trade a single one of my Exxon-Mobil shares ( I bought when it was ESSO) for 3 for one of Pepco or Phizer !

from th current satellite images (which shos the smoke as being (harmless?) white this and the other California fires are ALL blowing out into the Pacific... soooo?

lets prepare to REALLY deep fry any fish we get at that famous (soot-free) pier in SF .

Nora said...

Here's the view of the fire from our boat in Sausalito. Et in Acadia ego.

Hazen said...

"Near-by residents." That's us. Everyone of us, no matter where we are.

Nora said...

Oops, I meant to say Arcadia. You'll have to excuse me -- I grew up outside of Boston. It's a wonder I even know Rs exist.

TC said...

Curtis, You're certainly correct, those of us who are its neighbors have not been endeared of Chevron Richmond for some time now, and this latest gross malfeasance in that sense constitutes less a shock than (yet another) aggravation of the offense -- given there's been so much previous, so much sorry-saying, so much promising to do better, always followed by so much doing of worse.

Hazen, Yes, one way or another, what goes around comes around. And it's gaining on us. Since the car hit I've been unable (amonth other inabilities) to turn my head. All the better to not see things coming.

(Personally I'd be delighted to see the price of gas skyrocket so high it's out of range of "discretionary" drivers like the one who just about killed me, right out here on the corner in Our Town.)

Nora's dramatic shot captures the first months of the explosion and fire from the dock across the bay.

Ed, as to the Richmond populace consisting of white stock portfolio holders, that would draw a laugh at two a.m. down on San Pablo. Just before you got stabbed or shot.

It remains a company town, a refinery town, continually besmirched and befouled by chemical transgression from Big Oil.

To dwell there if there was another choice, unlikely.

Though it is only the 61st largest city in the US, it is the sixth most dangerous city in California.

I've shown some scenic views: e.g., the top photo here:


... and the tenth and eleven shots here:


Probably not many portfolios hid behind those exteriors.