Detroit — State regulators are holding an online public hearing Wednesday evening over a proposed consent order with Marathon Petroleum Co. for emissions violations.

Under the agreement, the company will pay $82,000 in fines to the state’s general fund and invest hundreds of thousands more into safeguards for the community, according to the Michigan Department of Energy, Great Lakes and Energy.

The Marathon oil refinery in Detroit on Feb. 4, 2019.

Wednesday’s online session begins at 6 p.m. Afterward, those listening in will be able to ask questions. The state’s Air Quality Division will accept public comment through Sept. 28.

EGLE in July outlined the tentative $360,000 deal with the Detroit refinery that has the company installing an air filtration system at Mark Twain School for Scholars in southwest Detroit, boosting its data reporting and paying penalties over an emission release last fall as well as prior incidents. 

Marathon has said it’s pursing the projects as part of the settlement based on input from the community and environmental groups. 

The agreement is a result of an incident in February 2019 when a flare system malfunction prompted the release of sulfide and mercaptan vapor. The order also covers eight emission violations on five separate events dating to 2017.

David Leaver, general manager of Marathon’s Detroit refinery, has said the company works to eliminate operational errors but “they do occasionally occur.”

On Wednesday, Leaver said the company looks forward to fulfilling the commitments.

“It’s going to be an unbelievably significant improvement to the school and it’s desperately needed,” he said. 

The agreement comes after the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform urged federal regulators to investigate a September chemical release that sparked health worries in the community and among congressional lawmakers. 

EGLE has said that the order would address alleged air quality violations, require Marathon to follow a compliance program and pay the fine within 30 days of the order being finalized. The supplemental environmental projects, the school air system and real-time data reporting will total $282,000. 

The air handling system work has begun and is slated for completion on or before Aug. 31, 2021. The online platform for the public will be up and running by Dec. 21, 2020.

In February, U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, and Harley Rouda, a California Democrat, asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to probe the Sept. 12, 2019, release and turn over findings on what was discharged and its impact on air quality. 

The request came after Tlaib and Rouda convened a packed congressional field hearing on air and water quality at a recreation center next to the refinery in September with a five-member panel of residents and environmental advocates. 

The two-hour hearing was held just after the vapor emissions prompted an evacuation of the facility and led to concern from residents. In February 2019, a flare also malfunctioned there, emitting an odor that sparked fear across the community and several others nearby.

Thousands of oil and gas operations, government facilities and other sites won permission to stop monitoring for hazardous emissions or otherwise bypass rules intended to protect health and the environment because of the coronavirus outbreak. Marathon won permission to skip environmental tests at many of its refineries and gas stations in California, Michigan, North Dakota and Texas.

Leaver told reporters in September that the incident stemmed from a valve leak while the company was decommissioning equipment. The company, he said, acted quickly to notify authorities, shut the unit down and knocked down the vapors with water.

Tlaib has noted the 48217 ZIP code in Detroit is among the state’s most polluted. It sits in the shadow of the Marathon refinery.

In the face of criticism, Marathon officials have noted that emissions have been reduced 80% in the last two decades and that $350 million has been invested in recent years to further lower emissions. 

The company through its foundation has given $300,000 locally, over $50,000 of which was given from its employees directly, Leaver said. The company, he said, is doing more to engage with neighbors to change the perception of the refinery, make community improvements and address concerns.

“We’re making some headway and I’m hopeful that as the years go on, we’re going to be seen as a different place that has really made a difference in this ZIP code,” he said. “We’re becoming more and more active in the community. People need to give us a chance.”

Comments to the consent order can be submitted by mail to Erin Moran, Enforcement Specialist, EGLE, AQD, P.O. Box 30260, Lansing, Michigan, 48909-7760; via email at MoranE@Michigan.gov; or by calling (517) 284-0900.

cferretti@detroitnews.com