A love letter to Chevron. Really. by Joe Mathews @FortuneMagazine October 23, 2014, 9:03 AM EST E-mail Tweet Facebook Google Plus Linkedin Share icons Dear Chevron, I will not compare thee to a summer’s day. But make no mistake: I love you. You are unaccustomed, I know, to getting letters like this. Love is usually reserved for younger, sexier companies—Apple AAPL or Twitter TWTR —across the bay from your San Ramon, Calif., headquarters. You and other oil companies are villains in today’s California—polluters, price gougers, perpetrators of climate change. In this fall’s gubernatorial debate, Jerry Brown disapprovingly noted your $21 billion in profits last year while blaming oil for forest fires and rising sea levels. And I’m not going to get into the 2012 explosion at your refinery in Richmond that caused thousands of people to seek medical treatment. I forgive you none of your sins. Still, I can’t help loving you. You’ve always been what’s most important in any relationship: present. In California, companies come and companies go. But not you. You’ve stayed, for 135 years, making you one of our state’s oldest firms. And while you’re aging, you’re still potent. You’re the state’s top oil producer, and you’re number one among all California companies in revenue. But I’m not just a gold digger. I love how your facilities connect the state in a way that few institutions, other than our universities and our prisons, have managed. Your operations bridge north and south, coast and inland, with refineries in the Bay Area (the aforementioned Richmond) and L.A. (El Segundo, a small city named after your second refinery) and oil fields and other facilities in Kern County. You also connect us to a past too many Californians have forgotten. Your story reminds us of the first quarter of the 20th century, when we were the leading oil-producing state in the country. You were incorporated as the Pacific Coast Oil Company in 1879, became part of the Standard Oil empire in 1900, then struck out again on your own after the 1911 breakup of Standard. In those years, oil attracted millions of people here and kept them employed (including my grandfather, who once reported on Long Beach wells for a publication called the Munger Oilgram). Then in the 1980s, you bought Gulf Oil to become the mega-company Chevron CVX . Even as other companies, most recently Occidental Petroleum, departed California, you stayed and served as a stabilizing force in a volatile state. When it seemed no one could get a job in L.A. during the Great Recession, advertisements for your job fairs still played on Southern California radio stations. Now, despite all these ties, California and Chevron have grown apart. For all your slick publicity about your alternative energy investments, you’re fundamentally a global oil and natural gas company, and California’s political leadership is committed to moving the world away from carbon. I sometimes wonder if you still love us. On a recent trip to Texas, it didn’t escape my notice that you’ve been messing around with Houston—relocating hundreds of jobs there and becoming the title sponsor of the Houston Marathon. So let me say this now, since I doubt anyone else in California will: Please don’t go. I know we don’t make it easy on you, but you and California are still better together. It is precisely because you and California are so different now that we remain useful to each other. Your CEO John Watson gets this, telling Forbes: “There are some pluses in being here. It gives you a window on what a non-oil community thinks about our industry. That helps prepare us for what we see around the world.” This dynamic cuts both ways. Your armies of lobbyists and political strategists are a healthy check on our tendency to adopt restrictions on energy production. You won’t be able to derail our environmental movement, but you do slow us down. You are essential because California still runs on oil, and will for quite some time. While our environmentalists will never admit it, your wholesale departure from the state would be bad for the environment. The void you would leave would be filled by smaller companies that are less responsible than you and don’t have your history with California. It’s hard to change those you love, but I do have one request. I wish you would give yourself a human face—preferably of a powerful Chevron executive who is a Californian and can become a constant, recognizable presence in the state’s debates over energy. Yes, you run ads with California-based employees, but because it’s always somebody different doing something different, it’s hard to get a fix on who and what you are. You’re not unlike California itself in offering so many faces that you’re faceless. This state needs an oilman with whom we can talk and argue. Sure, activists will continue to protest you, but many Californians would appreciate sharing in your knowledge and perspective. You may be a big ruthless oil company, but we shouldn’t forget that you’re our big ruthless oil company. Very truly yours, Joe Mathews Joe Mathews wrote this missive for Zocalo Public Square (zocalopublicsquare.org), where he is California columnist and innovation editor.