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Detroit refinery leading the way with environmental programs

Julie Evans, for Marathon Petroleum Corporation
Marathon Petroleum’s Detroit refinery consistently operates 40% below permitted emission levels.

Petroleum refineries across the country have made enormous strides in reducing their environmental footprints, and Marathon Petroleum Corporation stands out for its results. In 2020, Marathon earned more ENERGY STAR® recognitions from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency than all other refiners combined, and significantly reducing emissions across its nationwide operations. The company’s Detroit refinery is a leading performer, with powerful programs that are making a difference.

“Marathon Petroleum has been part of the southwest Detroit community for over 60 years,” says Dave Leaver, general manager of the Detroit refinery. “As we have grown, we’ve invested heavily in improved technology each step of the way to allow us to protect our employees, neighbors and the environment we all share. We have over 700 employees and contractors who come to work each day, committed to running the plant in a way that minimizes our impact on the environment and maximizes our positive contributions to the local community.” 

Reducing emissions

Marathon Petroleum and its Detroit refinery are committed to going over and above government mandated emissions requirements. For example, The Detroit refinery consistently operates 40% below permitted emission levels. The facility has reduced overall emissions by more than 80% in the past 20 years, thanks to $350 million of investments in environmental and safety improvements at the refinery.

In 2018, Marathon invested $30 million in a project that allowed them to improve recovery of high carbon content gases, like propane. The process reduces the amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted through the refining process by 1,011 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent annually.  To put things in perspective, that’s equivalent to the electricity use of 184 homes every year or the amount of carbon dioxide sequestered by 1,240 acres of forest every year.

Also, due to Marathon’s significant investment in operating technologies at their Detroit refinery, they make some of the cleanest burning fuel possible. That ultimately means less tailpipe emissions for every car in the Detroit area burning their fuel. 

Leaver says because the Detroit refinery’s footprint is so large and they’re located right next to the interstate, the perception is that their operations have a disproportionate impact in the area. However, data from Michigan environmental regulators shows that in a 2-mile radius of the refinery, just 3% of emissions come from their plant. 

As a public service, the Detroit refinery operates four perimeter air monitors. These live, fully interactive monitors provide valuable data on air quality for the region, capturing emissions from a variety of sources in the area. They are maintained by a third-party provider with all data submitted to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE).  The public can access this data through an easy-to-use website, which shows real-time emissions data from the monitoring system with a color-coded map.

As much progress as the refinery has made, they’re far from finished.

Conserving resources 

Beyond reducing emissions, the Detroit refinery has implemented several energy and water conservation programs.  Recently, they completed a $2 million investment in reverse osmosis (RO) technology, allowing them to recycle 500 gallons of water per minute year-round that otherwise would be discharged to a city wastewater treatment plant.  This is a savings of 183,000,000 gallons of water per year.  They’ve also taken on additional water reduction efforts in their processing units that are targeted to save the equivalent of 30,000,000 additional gallons this year.  The net total of these two savings is the equivalent of saving 23,667,000 showers a year.  

The refinery also has a Focus on Energy Program that drives facility-wide energy reduction efforts.  Last year the team focused on insulation improvements and operational changes to reduce electricity usage, resulting in energy savings equivalent to electrically powering 5,150 houses annually.  

Looking forward and giving back

As much progress as the refinery has made, Leaver says the engineers, operators and support staff are far from finished. They continue to challenge themselves to keep improving their environmental efforts and are dedicated to giving back to the Detroit community as they do so.

“Having been a fixture in Detroit for many years, the plant has grown and modernized, and our commitment to our local community has only grown stronger,” Leaver says. “We have really taken on a new mission of making an impact in the areas of education, basic needs and safety.  Our employees have put in countless volunteer hours this year in the local community and all of us here are working to develop long-term relationships with a core group of nonprofits that come alongside us as we work with the local community and our local school to change lives.”

Marathon Petroleum Corporation has 13 refineries in 12 states. Their Detroit refinery has been at its current location since 1930, and was purchased by Marathon in 1959. For more information, visit the Detroit refinery community site

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