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Battle of Marathon

Marathon, Valero units in Gulf Coast halted unexpectedly

After seeing one of its major units shut down weeks ago, Marathon Petroleum is juggling the difficult responsibilities of restarting operations at that same Galveston Bay (TX) site. What comes with that has snowballed into something more: a zoomed-in debate between Marathon workers and representatives of the USW (United Steel Workers) Union. Additionally (as is today's custom) the entire argument hang under the cloud of emissions regulations.

Due to harsh winter storms affecting the Gulf Coast and Texas—a repeat of last year's weather patterns—a number of major oil refineries were shut down over the past two to three weeks. Marathon's Galveston Bay refinery in Texas City, Tx., which also dealt with a troublesome leak in the past year, was the first. The failure of equipment at an electrical substation owned by Texas-New Mexico Power on February 4 knocked out power to 20,000 homes and businesses, including Marathon’s 593,000 barrel-a-day GBR and Valero’s Texas City Oil Refinery, which produces 260,000 barrels a day. Production was halted recently, causing concern for investors and consumers alike.

As of this week, Galveston Bay is back to "up-and-running", according to some sources, but it also depends on what you consider that term to mean. One report from Reuters last week said the plant is "restarting the diesel-producing hydrocracker" according to "people familiar with its operations"; as well as "restarting the 60,000-bpd hydrocracker, called the Ultracracker, the two 225,000-bpd crude distillation units (CDUs), 140,000-bpd gasoline-producing fluidic catalytic cracker and 13,500-bpd cokers are on warm circulation."

However, some Marathon workers are uncertain about the status and aiming to strike due to working conditions and being forced to adhere to poorly-planned maintenance schedules, according to a WSWS report from last week. That article said some workers "are incensed that the United Steelworkers (USW) union has refused to call a strike and is forcing them remain on the job and help Marathon restore production at its most critical facility, the Galveston Bay Refinery in Texas City, Texas."

Meanwhile, Oil & Gas companies were already seeing an uptick in profits due to recent market volatility/uncertainty. Take British Petrol's 8-year record high, reported by the company February 8. The trouble is, those numbers for the industry's corporate interests often butt heads with the tireless efforts of its own workforce, who are called upon to maintain and operate its facilities.

In a statement to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Marathon said the restart process would not be finished until February 19, adding that it aims to “slowly bring units back online to minimize emissions.”

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