Michigan’s only gasoline refinery, Marathon Oil in southwest Detroit, received final permission Friday to begin a $1.9-billion expansion of its plant, which will create 800 construction jobs and more than 100 permanent jobs and, possibly, give some gas price relief in 2011 to drivers in southeast Michigan.
The refinery is in an industrial complex of smokestacks and storage tanks that creates a dramatic skyline for drivers crossing over it on I-75.
Marathon officials moved quickly after getting the news, beginning construction within minutes of learning it had received the permit to start.
“We’re thrilled,” said company spokeswoman Chris Fox.
The company had pile drivers in the ground at the site minutes after the Department of Environmental Quality announced it had approved its air pollution permit.
“We’ve had people on standby, waiting for weeks,” Fox said.
The state issued the permit after Marathon made concessions to improve pollution controls and help the nearby community, including promises of preferential treatment for Detroit residents.
The company already held a job fair in Detroit to start hiring construction workers. The plant, which now has 480 workers, is to add another 135 permanent jobs when it’s finished at the end of 2010.
The project has raised controversy in the city because it’s in southwest Detroit, an area already loaded with steel plants, a sewage treatment plant, several small incinerators, a Ford plant and potentially, a new bridge plaza for cars and trucks heading to Canada.
Although the refinery’s size, even after the addition, isn’t remarkable (it’ll be midsized among the nation’s 143 refineries), the new addition will be geared for squeezing gasoline and diesel fuel from controversial Alberta tar sands — unconventional heavy oil that has become more attractive as oil prices skyrocket.
Some Detroiters were dismayed.
“That’s really disappointing,” said Donele Wilkins, director of Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice.
Wilkins said the area already is the “toxic doughnut” of Detroit, an island of heavily polluted neighborhoods that bear the brunt of factories that provide jobs and products for the rest of the region. “The community already suffers disproportionately, but unfortunately, that’s what the law allows.”
DEQ spokesman Bob McCann said the agency takes into account other pollution sources in the area, but under the law, can only set standards for the individual company.
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