Marathon Petroleum and Southwest Detroit: The Intersection of Community and Environment

by: Andrew Hoffman

Publication Date: March 15, 2022
Length: 18 pages
Product ID#: 2-652-482

Core Disciplines: Social Impact, Sustainability

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Teaching Note

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Environmental racism describes the unequal burden of environmental hazards placed on disadvantaged communities through systems, policies, and practices. In such a situation, these people disproportionately live close to sources of toxic waste—what are referred to as Locally Unwanted Land Uses (LULUs) such as sewage works, mines, landfills, power stations, major roads, and other emitters of airborne, earth, and water pollution—and suffer from greater rates of health problems, as a result.

More than a quarter of Marathon Petroleum’s 13 refineries are located in minority-majority communities. Marathon Petroleum’s Detroit refinery is located in the ZIP code 48217, where around 80% of residents are Black, 12% are Hispanic, and over 40% are considered to be in poverty. These residents also have higher rates of asthma, heart diseases, and lung cancer than in most other ZIP codes in Michigan.

This case places students in the role of fictional character Riley Novak, Marathon Petroleum’s chief environmental officer, to examine the company’s history with environmental racism, especially in Detroit, and the proposed solution—the Property Purchase Program.

Teaching Objectives

After reading and discussing the material, students should:

  • Define environmental racism and analyze its role with regard to Marathon Petroleum and the oil industry.
  • Identify the air quality and health problems in Detroit’s 48217 ZIP code.
  • Evaluate Marathon Petroleum’s Property Purchase Program.
  • Discuss other potential solutions to the situation in 48217 and to environmental racism in the oil industry in general.