Marathon Oil Company Cleanup  

Many area residents may not be aware that the Muskegon area was a focal point for early oil exploration and production in Michigan. In the late 1920s, Muskegon was the “oil capital” of the state, with wells drilled in numerous locations throughout the county, and in Muskegon Township.Marathon Oil History

The north side of Laketon Avenue between Walker and Dangl Roads was once dotted with oil tanks from the Old Dutch Oil Refinery, which was established in 1929 at the tail end of the oil boom, and eventually became the Marathon Oil Company.   In the 1980s the oil tanks were removed, but extensive pollution was left behind.

According to a study done by WW Engineering and Science of Grand Rapids, “environmental concerns at this site were first noted in 1929,” very early on in its history.  It wasn’t until 1980, under Marathon’s ownership, however, that an official investigation of the pollution was begun.  Since that time, the company has done studies to determine the extent of pollution on the site, decided on a cleanup method, and begun carrying out a cleanup of the groundwater and soils.

The site attracted the attention of the MLWC with Muskegon Township’s interest with the passing of a new ordinance that restricts residents from using groundwater in the area of the Marathon Oil property.

Nature Lends a Hand:  Plants and the Air Help Clean the Marathon Site

Wetland plants, such as cattails, are being used at the Marathon Oil site to help clean up pollution and prevent it from moving to other areas outside of the current areas of concern.

Phytoremediation, as it is known is using plants or plant processes to remove, degrade or make harmless, contaminants in the ground or water.  Plants can do this when their roots take in water and nutrients from polluted soils or groundwater. Sometimes, as in Marathon’s case, tiny microbes or “bugs” can be added to the process to make the cleanup more successful.  

As part of their cleanup plan, Marathon has created wetlands just south of their property along an area known as Barnes Drain, which empties into Little Black Creek. This method is apparently working but does raise some questions:   

  • Are the wetlands capturing all of the pollutants before they have a chance to reach Little Black Creek?
  • Are the wetland plant roots deep enough to reach all of the pollution?
  • How effective is the cleanup method?
  • When will the cleanup be completed?
  • Is there a long-term plan for maintenance of the man-made wetlands?

Air Sparging is another cleanup method being used at Marathon Oil.  With this method, air is injected through special wells into the water-soaked area below the water table. The air mixes with the contaminants (BTEX) under the ground to help them evaporate. The vapor then moves through the soil to an air vent where it is dispersed to the air. One important benefit of air sparging is that it puts air into the soil, making it more possible that microorganisms will break down the contaminants.

Wells for the air sparging process, are located along the west and east boundaries of the Marathon Oil site.
Marathon Oil Contamination Map