Group protests Marathon refinery in wake of oil vapor cloud

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Detroit — A group called on the governor and state officials Friday to hold the owner of a southwest Detroit oil refinery accountable for emissions it puts into the air.

That call came a day after a leak at the Marathon Petroleum Co. refinery caused an oil vapor cloud to be released in the air.

The Marathon petroleum refinery in southwest Detroit.

MoreAll-clear issued after Detroit Marathon refinery vapor cloud; 2 workers sent to hospitals

"This has happened way too often," said Justin Onwenu, an organizer for the Sierra Club Detroit and a city resident. "We're here today not only to demand answers ... but to demand accountability."

He made the remarks during a 10:30 a.m. news conference held in front of Cadillac Place in the city's New Center area. Cadillac Place houses the state's Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy, which regulates the refinery and is responsible for monitoring Michigan's air quality.

He was joined by 20 other people, including residents who live near the refinery and community activists. 

Nick Schroeck, an environmental law expert and associate law professor at the University of Detroit-Mercy, was in the group Thursday.

"We often hear refineries operate under their permits and in compliance with their permits," he said. "But this is a repeated problem where we have these release events.

"Call it whatever you want, an accident, a malfunction," he said. "It's a violation of those permits and the state's air quality standards. We're demanding action from EGLE to step up and assess appropriate fines. More importantly, come up with a plan so this doesn't happen again." 

Officials with the department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy said the agency is investigating Thursday’s vapor release.

Theresa Landrum, who lives near the refinery, said she and her neighbors are "tired of the releases happening."

"It will take appropriate action upon the completion of that process," the department said in a statement. "Protecting the health of nearby residents is a priority, and unpermitted releases that threaten their well-being are not acceptable. EGLE will work with all parties to ensure that public health and the environment are protected."

On Thursday, city officials said a leak at the refinery at 1001 S. Oakwood at about 1:20 p.m. emitted the oil vapor. They also said the incident had no impact on the community and the situation was mitigated.

Officials with Findlay, Ohio-based Marathon Petroleum Co. said two people employed at the refinery by a contractor were sent to the hospital.

The refinery has been a frequent target of criticism and constant source of frustration for residents who live nearby and environmental activists. Southwest Detroit residents have long complained of foul air quality and the state has documented the city has a higher overall asthma rate than the rest of Michigan.

MoreNew permits to reduce air pollutants from Marathon

Onwenu mentioned February incident in which the refinery emitted a foul odor. State officials said it was caused by a problem with the refinery's flare gas system. 

MoreOfficials vow 'tough questions' after odor release from Marathon refinery

And last year, Marathon settled a federal class-action lawsuit stemming from a 2013 storage tank explosion.

MoreMarathon settles Detroit explosion class-action suit

Theresa Landrum, a vocal critic of Marathon's refinery and who lives walking distance from it, said she wants something done to stop it from putting emissions into her neighborhood's air.

"We're tired of waiting, we're tired of being afraid, we're tired of the releases happening," she said. "We're not anti-business, but we are anti-harm of communities that live within yards of the refinery."

Twitter: @CharlesERamirez