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Marathon Oil Refinery in Detroit, Michigan, USA

Marathon Petroleum Corporation has a long history of inflicting environmental injustice on a low-income, mostly Black neighborhood next to their refinery. Emma Lockridge and many others fight for justice.


Zip code area 48217 along the Rouge and Detroit Rivers in Southwest Detroit is known as the most polluted zip code in Michigan as well as the third most polluted area in the entire country [1].  This part of Detroit has had a long history of environmental racism, starting with its primarily African-American residents’ ancestors who migrated there after the end of slavery to work in dirty industries promising a good working class life to those fleeing racial traumas and poverty in the South at a time when few other opportunities presented themselves. 48217 quickly became a ¨sacrifice zone,¨ or a ¨pollution hotspot¨ that rapidly industrialized thanks often to a "people-of-color", low-income population taking on the burdens of industrial pollution while also having very few amenities such as adequate healthcare or decent food options [6]. The population today is still predominantly Black, consisting of 82.7% African-Americans and a rising population of Hispanics. 38.1% of locals live below the poverty line [17]. The fountain of opportunities has also long since dried up, with most jobs going to outsiders. Only 41 of the refinery's 524 employees live in Detroit [3].

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Marathon Oil Refinery in Detroit, Michigan, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:Michigan
Location of conflict:Detroit
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Oil and gas refining
Specific commodities:Crude oil
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Marathon Petroleum Corporation´s Detroit facility, the only one in Michigan, is in between Oakwood Heights to the northeast and Boynton to the southwest [9]. The 102-hectare refinery produces 132,000-140,000 barrels of crude oil every day, as well as hundreds of tons of 29 different types of toxins [4, 12]. The total amount of their air emissions was 99.6% of the 151,800 total pounds of emissions in zip zone 48217 in 2018 [9].

Project area:102
Level of Investment:5,300,000,000
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:8,000
Start of the conflict:25/06/1959
Company names or state enterprises:Marathon Petroleum Corporation from United States of America
Relevant government actors:Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, U.S. Congress
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:-Michigan United (
-East Michigan Environmental Action Council (
-Climate Justice Alliance (
-Soulardarity (
-Rosa Parks Institute (
-Movement Generation (
-Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition (
-People’s Water Board (
-Sierra Club (
- Universiy of Michigan
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Fires, Global warming, Noise pollution, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Potential: Genetic contamination, Oil spills, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases, Other Health impacts
Potential: Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women
Potential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Court decision (undecided)
Application of existing regulations
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Marathon to this day (2020) still does not want to buy out Boynton homes or stopindustrial production.
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

[5] Unreliable inhaler access plagues Detroit´s asthmatics
[click to view]

Hearing before the subcommittee on environment
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Critical Ecofeminism
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Trouble at Marathon
[click to view]

[3] Struggling to breathe in 48217
[click to view]

[4] Detroit refinery poised to increase air pollution to make cleaner fuel
[click to view]

[5] Unreliable inhaler access plagues Detroit´s asthmatics
[click to view]

[8] Investment group meets Detroit residents living in refinery’s toxic shadow
[click to view]

[9] Emma Lockridge
[click to view]

[16] ¨We have been poisoned every day of our lives¨
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[10] Local news: Most polluted Michigan zip code holds air quality hearing
[click to view]

Video: Emma Lockridge speaks out against Detroit refinery
[click to view]

Video playlist: Emma Lockridge´s footage of refinery pollution and protests
[click to view]

TV Episode: One Detroit: Fighting for Air in Southwest Detroit
[click to view]

Song: Think Twice - National Sacrifice Zone
[click to view]

[2] Photo Essay: The Burning River
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Dalena Tran, ICTA, [email protected]
Last update12/01/2020
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