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Marathon wants permit to increase production in Southwest Detroit

By Jena Brooker

Marathon Petroleum Corporation seeks to remove permit limits and increase production at its Detroit refinery in a new application to state air quality regulators. 

Image: Shutterstock

In March, Marathon submitted the application to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) to operate at full capacity of up to 140,000 barrels of oil a day. It currently operates below that. 

The permit would not require physical changes to the site but would allow the facility to process more, adding pollutants to the air.

The facility, located at 1001 South Oakwood Boulevard, produces gasoline, fuel oils, asphalt, propane, and propylene next to a low-income, majority-Black neighborhood. The project is expected to add 1.7 tons of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) per year and 30.1 tons per year of nitrogen oxides (NOx), according to the application. VOCs can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation as well as difficulty breathing and nausea; NOx causes similar effects like shortness of breath and increased vulnerability to asthma. 

Detroit residents’ asthma rates are 46% higher than the state average. The refinery is located in an area that does not meet national air quality standards for sulfur dioxide. Since 2013, the corporation has violated state air quality laws 21 times at the refinery. 

Although the facility has violated air quality laws numerous times in the last decade and is under three consent orders with the state to stop violating, the state says it cannot consider those violations in its application review.

Most recently, the company released more sulfur dioxide and particulate matter than permitted, failed to perform quality assurance testing, and tested incorrectlyfor pollutants – all of which pose a health threat to residents living nearby. 

To address the increased emissions, the company is requesting to add different pollution control equipment, expand its leak detection and repair program and extend the air monitoring program at the facility for three years after the permit issuance. 

The company asserts that the requested changes will not have a significant impact on air quality. 

A Marathon spokesperson said the request is being made to meet customer demand. “The refinery supplies a significant portion of the transportation fuels used in Michigan, which is vital to a stable and thriving economy,” a statement to BridgeDetroit read.

“The Detroit Refinery has a long history of reducing emissions and currently operates at about 40 percent below the facility’s yearly permitted emission limits. As a part of the permit request, MPC is committing to significantly lower emission limits and several voluntary emission reduction initiatives.”

But law advocates and environmental organizers feel differently.

In a letter to EGLE on June 3, Nick Leonard, executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center said the application should be reviewed more carefully. He raised doubts about how the state determined that the changes won’t interfere with meeting local air quality standards.  

He also warned that the company is requesting to remove its capacity limit because it likely wants to process more in the future. Marathon has declined to comment on whether the company will seek to increase its capacity in the future.

EGLE spokeswoman Jill Greenberg said via email that EGLE’s review of Marathon’s Detroit permitting project “included a thorough evaluation of their requests and assured draft permits would meet all applicable air quality rules and regulations.

“We will be responding thoroughly to the Environmental Law Center’s comments as we evaluate comments and work toward writing the response to comments document so the decision maker can make a final decision,” Greenberg added. “A decision could include issuing the permits as is, issuing them with changes, or denying the permits.” 

Andrew Kaplowitz, climate and energy justice lead for nonprofit Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, said the proposed expansion is a direct affront to local, state, federal and tribal climate change goals.

“Marathon’s request to remove limits on their production is outrageous,” Kaplowitz said. “Marathon wants to process more dirty fossil fuels despite overwhelming scientific evidence that we need to switch to clean renewable energy.” 

Fossil fuels are the largest contributor to climate change, and replacing them with renewable energy is key to reducing carbon emissions and avoiding the worst effects of climate change, from flooding to extreme heat to severe weather events, according to the United Nations

EGLE said it cannot consider Marathon’s violations, according to a project summaryposted online. 

“The fact that a source has had past violations cannot be used as a reason to deny a permit if the request can meet the applicable rules and regulations,” officials wrote.

If the permit were approved, the facility would ramp up production before implementing its voluntary projects and achieving emissions reductions by the end of 2025, according to the application. 

A public hearing was held online and in person by EGLE on May 22 regarding the permit application. EGLE said it will consider all of the comments given during the hearing and other comments in its decision, which is expected sometime this year.

Comments can be submitted through June 3 by email: [email protected], by U.S. email, EGLE, Air Quality Division, Permit Section, P.O. Box 30260, Lansing, Michigan 48909- 7760 or by voicemail at 517-284-0900. 


This article first appeared at Bridge Detroit.


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