The Texas City refinery, owned by Marathon Oil Corporation, processes over 76,000 barrels per day of low-sulfur crude oil. Employing 260 workers, its products include gasoline, LPG, fuel oil and aromatics solvents. The refinery also produces naphtha, light cycle oil, benzene, xylene, propane and sulfur.
Operating since the early 1900s as part of Republic Oil Refining, parts of the original facility were located on the same site of the current facility. Marathon acquired those in 1962 and has owned the refinery ever since.
Marathon Oil Corporation has implemented a plan to improve its energy efficiency by reducing what it calls its Energy Intensity Index. It plans to reduce this by 10 percent by 2012 over a baseline it established in 2002. For the Texas City refinery, it planned to reduce the index by 15 percent by 2008. The plan also included the effort to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by over 600 tons per year between 2002 and 2009.
In the past few years, the Texas City refinery has received safety and environmental awards, like other Marathon-operated facilities. These include the Galveston Bay Foundation Petroleum Bay Business of the Year Award in 2006. The Texas Chemical Council also awarded the site with the Caring for Texas Recognition awards in both 2005 and 2006.
Additional awards, honored to the facility for its safety accomplishments include those from the National Petroleum Refiners Association as well as the National Safety Council.
In January 2010, the entire Texas City refinery was shut down for a planned 14 days for planned maintenance. The note indicated that emissions were expected from the FCC, SRU, platformer, sulfur recovery and alkylation units.
Asbestos and Marathon Oil Corporation’s Texas City Refinery
During much of the last century, asbestos was used as a building material in cases where flames or extreme heat was a risk. Therefore, it was typical for oil refineries like Marathon Oil Corporation’s Texas City refinery to be built with materials made with asbestos. A lesser-known property of some kinds of asbestos is that they resist chemicals. In light of the type of work that occurs at oil refineries, asbestos, therefore, appeared not only in plant structures, but also in counter tops, safety clothing and coating materials. Asbestos, however, came with a notable downside that was not understood or at times deliberately ignored: grave and sometimes fatal diseases were found to be the result of asbestos exposure.
Most of this asbestos was of the amosite variety. Amosite is one of the amphibole varieties of the asbestos family of minerals, which is generally considered more likely to cause disease than serpentine asbestos. Although it was disallowed as a construction material in the 1970s, amosite, in the form of asbestos transite, was utilized for many years in oil refineries, labs and chemical plants across the country.
Asbestos transite displayed qualities like cement; it could be laminated and sprayed onto ductwork and pipes. This form of asbestos did not present a health hazard as long as it stayed solid. With age, however, asbestos-containing transite becomes prone to crumbling, enabling tiny fibers to float into the air. Asbestos when it is in this state is considered friable, a term that is used to describe materials that are easily pulverized. Industrial ovens also almost always were fabricated with friable asbestos in insulation linings.
The Problem with Friable Asbestos
Friable asbestos is a problem since in this form the fibers are easily released into the atmosphere. Inhaling asbestos fibers can result in conditions such as asbestosis. Mesothelioma, a rare and frequently lethal cancer affecting the mesothelium (the lining between the lungs and the chest cavity), is strongly linked with asbestos exposure. Pericardial and peritoneal mesothelioma are linked to the ingestion of fibers of asbestos, which is likely if the microscopic particles float in the air and land on food or drinks.
Since medical research led to increased knowledge of asbestos’ serious effects on human health, men and women today benefit from the protection offered by stringent regulations controlling the use of asbestos. However, when most oil refineries were constructed, asbestos was much more commonplace. And in all too many cases workers used materials containing asbestos when they did not have the protection of respirators or other safety gear.
The Time Bomb
Unlike most workplace injuries, which are easily observed and known about immediately following the causing incident, asbestos-related illnesses can take ten, twenty, or even thirty years to appear. It can also be challenging to identify asbestos-related illnesses because the symptoms can be mistaken for the symptoms of other conditions. Hence, it is very important for those that were employed by or spent much time around plants such as Marathon Oil Corporation’s Texas City refinery to ask their health care professionals for a mesothelioma treatment guide. New drugs for treating the disease are being discovered in hopes of finding a mesothelioma cure, and early detection gives patients and their doctors the best chance to combat the once always-fatal disease.Sources
Marathon Oil Corporation - Corporate Fact Sheet
Marathon Oil Corporation - Texas City, Texas
NASDAQ - U.S. Refinery Status: Marathon Texas City Shut for 14-Day Work
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal