Photo Slideshow: Tar Sands Oil Refinery Burdens a Detroit Community

Circle of Blue speaks with residents facing the potential environmental and health consequences of an expanding Marathon Oil Corp. refinery in Detroit.

Alberta’s tar sands are at the leading edge of a new era of hydrocarbon development in North America and the world. Industry executives and the Department of Energy assert that the transition from conventional to unconventional sources of oil, like tar sands, is essential for satisfying American demand for gasoline, diesel, and jet fuels. This includes expanding the upper Midwest’s existing 17 refineries, five of which are located along the Great Lakes, to process Alberta’s reserves.

At the end of the 2,000 miles of pipeline carrying tar sands oil into the United States is a Marathon Oil Corp. refinery in Detroit. Since 2008, Marathon has invested an estimated $2.2 billion in expanding the facility so it can process 115,000 barrels per day from so-called “heavy oil” into transportation fuels. Meanwhile the overhaul has increased community members’ concerns about the potential environmental and health risks, with some residents hoping the energy company will buy out their homes.

Reporting and photographs © Heather Rousseau. Original music by Brian Griffith.Reach Rousseau at

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