Marathon Petroleum refinery in Muskegon Township left toxic legacy – Muskegon Chronicle
MUSKEGON TOWNSHIP, MI — What became the Marathon Petroleum refinery on Laketon Avenue operated from 1929 to 1966, first as Old Dutch Refining Co., from 1953 to 1959 as Aurora Gasoline Co. and in its final seven years under Marathon.
At its peak, the plant refined 15,500 barrels of crude oil per day into gasoline, kerosene, home heating oil, propane, butane and other products.
Before distribution via trucks, tankers and Marathon’s marine terminal on Muskegon Lake — connected to the Laketon Avenue refinery by two seven-mile pipelines — products were placed in storage tanks next to the plant’s processing units. The tanks had the capacity to store nearly 50 million gallons.
The decades of operation left a lingering legacy of oil in the soil.
By the 1980s, it had become a high-profile public issue. Environmental officials said the contamination had seeped into groundwater and possibly into Barnes Drain.
Neighbors complained of the strong stench of oil and worried about the safety of their drinking water, which came from wells, although state environmental officials said the wells were safe. Class-action lawsuits, angry yard signs and picketing outside the site resulted. Dozens of households used bottled water for years.
In the early 1990s the company paid to connect residents living over the pollution plume to municipal water. In 2005 it proposed, unsuccessfully, a Muskegon Township ordinance that would have required the capping of irrigation wells over and near the plume.
Marathon then began paying above-market prices to buy neighborhood homes one at a time and raze them – a project that has removed some $1.6 million in property value from Muskegon Township’s tax rolls.
In 2000, Marathon also began a groundwater remediation process near the drain, centered on two small artificial wetlands combined with an aerating process called air sparging to increase oxygen levels in Barnes Drain water.
None of that kept the petroleum products out of the drain, and none of it removed the source of the problem: the petroleum-soaked soil and polluted groundwater underneath the Marathon property.
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