In Martinez, a small suburb of the San Francisco Bay Area, two separate fires broke out at the Marathon oil refinery over the last month. In a fire on November 19, refinery worker, Jerome Serano, suffered third-degree burns on more than 80 percent of his body, which has left him currently fighting for his life. It is also estimated that over 200,000 pounds of renewable diesel fuel was released into the surrounding area.
The fires come after the refinery’s recent conversion into processing vegetable oil and animal fats into biofuels. In this transition process, workers have raised the alarm about the lack of adequate training as well as staffing. Workers have decried the risks of being forced to rapidly learn new positions.
The Marathon refinery in Martinez is just one of several refineries that lie along the East Bay Area in what is called the “refinery corridor.” It is also not unique in the threat that it poses to its workers as well as the surrounding communities. The largest refinery in the region, Chevron in Richmond, infamously burst into a massive fire in 2012 which sent some 15,000 people in the region to seek medical treatment. More recently in 2021 at the Valero refinery in Benicia, a worker suffocated to death because of a broken welding torch leaking argon gas in an oxygen deficient area. In several of the refineries, flaring regularly breaks out, releasing a wide range of chemicals into the air that are linked to increased birth defects as well as respiratory related illnesses.
Not only does this profit-driven capitalist system threaten our ability to survive on this planet by spewing endless amounts of greenhouse gases into the air; it puts our lives in danger, through dangerous working conditions and the poisoning of our communities.