As protests in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives swept across America and the globe, the protesters were seemingly backed by some unlikely allies, including Big Oil.
There exists decades of evidence that Big Oil has neglected communities of color with rampant pollution from refineries, such as Chevron’s Richmond refinery in California, or the Texas City refinery once owned by BP.
Additionally, Chevron has engaged in promoting “environmental racism” and rampant double standards in Nigeria, and has been guilty of decades of pollution in Ecuador.
For example, eight years ago, Scientific American outlined the price of living next door to Chevron’s Richmond facility in a piece entitled: “Pollution, Poverty and People of Color: Living with Industry.”
The article stated: “For 100 years, people, mostly Blacks, have lived next door to the booming Chevron Richmond Refinery built by Standard Oil… The people of Richmond, particularly African Americans, are at significantly higher risk of dying from heart disease and strokes and more likely to go to hospitals for asthma than other county residents. Health experts say their environment likely is playing a major role.”
Despite the clamor for change, nothing changes.
In the past five years at the refinery, it’s had 149 actions against it from the California Environmental Quality board, with fines totaling just under $2 million, according to Desmogblog.
Nor is Richmond unique: Three years ago, a report from the NAACP and the Clean Air Task Force found that Black people are 75 percent more likely to live in so-called “fence-line” communities that are next to industrial facilities, like oil refineries.
Mother Jones reported at the time “that the locations of these polluting facilities are usually because companies prefer to take advantage of communities with little political or economic power.”
Many of these same disadvantaged communities have been protesting over the recent weeks. But as Grist noted earlier this month, senior executives from Shell and BP made statements. Chevron went one step further and posted this on Twitter:
black lives matter. words from our leaders: https://t.co/Dl1WEKdCJe pic.twitter.com/pjyZEWx498
— Chevron (@Chevron) June 5, 2020
In response, Grist noted, “Journalists and writers on Twitter were quick to point out how fossil-fuel pollution disproportionately kills Black people,” or how Chevron was also implicated in human rights abuses in Nigeria, along with Shell.
One of those calling out Chevron was, an ex-colleague, Antonia Juhasz, who responded with a long line of tweets including:
As the @NAACP's Kathy Egland has warned, "One of the most duplicitous strategies of the fossil fuel industry is manipulating messaging which feigns concern for the welfare of low income and communities of color. This is a self-serving effort to maintain their wealth.” /7
— Antonia Juhasz (@AntoniaJuhasz) June 8, 2020
As for Chevron’s actions in Nigeria, in the book The Next Gulf, James Marriott, Lorne Stockman, and myself wrote about one instance where local youths protested peacefully against Chevron by occupying a rig: They were calling on the company to stop polluting their waters, and local ecology.
In response, “early one morning, flying low in the African sky, three helicopters arrives. All were being flown by foreign Chevron pilots, but they were full of Nigerian military and navy and the Mobile Police Force”.
When the Nigerian military arrived, they started shooting, killing two youths and wounding thirty more. As we wrote: “Those who went to help the dying were shot too.” Protestors were later arrested and hung with their hands behind their backs from the ceiling, treated like slabs of meat at an abattoir.
Indeed, it is easy to understand why Chevron’s Twitter intervention caused such outrage. But now, the company is in further trouble too.
E&E News has just reported that “Virginia-based communications firm, named CRC Advisors, urged journalists to look at how green groups were ‘claiming solidarity’ with black protesters while ‘backing policies which would hurt minority communities’.”
John Gage of CRC sent an email to media outlets including E&E News: “Despite this claimed solidarity, environmental organizations, composed of predominantly white members, are backing radical policies like the Green New Deal which would bring particular harm to minority communities.”
E&E continued: ”It was an audacious messaging campaign: White environmentalists are hurting black communities by pushing radical climate policies that would strip them of fossil fuel jobs.”
The only problem is that the campaign was paid for by Chevron. The tagline at the end of the email stated: “If you would rather not receive future communications from Chevron, let us know by clicking here.”
Although Chevron denied involvement, Naomi Oreskes, co-author of “Merchants of Doubt,” told E&E News that “Chevron’s fingerprints appear to be on this. There’s no socially acceptable language to describe how despicable this is. Is hard for me to contain my fury.” Twitter rightly exploded too:
Big Oil hypocrisy laid bare: @Chevron recently tweeted that #BlackLivesMatter – while also hiring an astroturfing PR firm to paint #GreenNewDeal as racist.
We can't let them divide & conquer the struggle for climate & racial justice.
Thanks @CorbinHiar for exposing this. https://t.co/IlxgM6rLGR
— Zorka Milin (@ZorkaMilin) June 18, 2020
This isn't the first time, nor even the worst. @Chevron hired infamous & unethical PR hack @samSinger to smear the people of Ecuador, environmental NGOs & communities of color in Richmond and Nigeria. It's the #ChevronWay.
As a movement, we MUST band together to take it on! https://t.co/kn1MT7IjlW
— Paul Paz y Miño (@paulpaz) June 18, 2020
This is not the first time Big Oil has tried to tarnish those fighting for a Green New Deal.
Earlier this month, Desmog reported that at “a House committee hearing on fossil fuel deception last year, Congressional reps from oil and gas states repeated a long-used talking point: A clean energy transition… risks leaving marginalized communities out in the cold and stalls development in Africa.”
But as Desmog added: “It’s an underhanded trick that’s almost as old as the industry itself. In fact, some of the same PR firms that helped Big Oil come up with the strategy of framing a transition away from fossil fuels as racist helped Big Tobacco push the idea that a cigarette tax would disproportionately harm Black communities back in the 1990s.”
For years Big Oil has repeated the dirty tactics of Big Tobacco. And once again it has been found doing so again.