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43 people arrested for blocking tar sands refinery on Lake Michigan

Photo by Rising Tide North America.

The Council of Canadians expresses its solidarity with the 43 people arrested yesterday for blocking the BP Whiting refinery in Whiting, Indiana on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Whiting is situated about 28 kilometres south of Chicago and about 430 kilometres west of Detroit.

The NW Times reports, “Police in riot gear arrested about 40 people Sunday afternoon after [about 1,000 people] marched more than a mile to BP Whiting Refinery’s Gate 15 to call for action on climate change. The group of those arrested sat in a circle in front of the gate, holding hands while chanting and singing. A crowd of onlookers cheered for each person as police got the protesters up one by one and led them to prisoner transport vans. Those arrested were taken to the East Chicago Public Safety Facility to be booked on a misdemeanor charge of criminal trespass and were expected to be released Sunday on their own recognizance, attorney Roy Dominguez said.”

In its promotion for this action, Break Free Midwest highlighted, “The fossil fuel era is over. We are demanding a just transition to a sustainable future, a transition that does not harm workers or communities already devastated by fossil fuel addiction.”

350.org founder Bill McKibben was there and said, “This was an amazing action.”

In a September 2011 campaign blog we noted that the refinery has a capacity to refine 405,000 barrels a day, with about 10 per cent of that being supplied by the tar sands. ABC News has reported, “The company completed work in late 2013 on a $4.2 billion expansion and upgrade of the refinery that will make it a top processor of heavy crude oil extracted from Canada’s tar sand deposits.”

Tar sands crude from Alberta is transported to the BP Whiting refinery via the 1,600-kilometre Enbridge Line 67 pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin. From there it connects with the Enbridge Line 6a pipeline.

Council of Canadians organizer Mark Calzavara has noted, “Line 6a ruptured near Kalamazoo Michigan in 2010 which released 3.3 million litres of dilbit into the environment. It was the largest inland oil spill ever in North American. After three years and over one billion dollars in cleanup costs, the river is still significantly polluted and Enbridge is now arguing that further cleanup will do more harm than good- essentially admitting that tar sands oil cannot be effectively cleaned up in the case of a spill.”

Beyond spills into the lake, the New York Times has reported, “Chicago politicians and advocates for the Great Lakes raised a huge outcry in 2007 when Indiana officials granted BP a new permit that would allow it to release significantly increased amounts of ammonia and suspended solids, or sludge, into Lake Michigan as part of the expansion. …[Additionally], because tar sands are much heavier and contain more sulfur than conventional oil, they must be diluted with a volatile natural gas product to make them sufficiently liquid to be shipped. Once they arrive at Whiting, these toxic compounds need to be removed and disposed of during refining.”

And last month it was revealed that BP had pressured the European Union against an industrial emissions directive that would have mandated pollution cuts and clean technologies.

The Guardian reported, “The EU abandoned or weakened key proposals for new environmental protections after receiving a letter from a top BP executive which warned of an exodus of the oil industry from Europe if the proposals went ahead. In the 10-page letter, the company predicted in 2013 that a mass industry flight would result if laws to regulate tar sands, cut power plant pollution and accelerate the uptake of renewable energy were passed, because of the extra costs and red tape they allegedly entailed. …The missive to the EU’s energy commissioner, Günther Oettinger, was dated 9 August 2013, partly hand-written, and signed by a senior BP representative whose name has been redacted.”

The article adds, “In his reply to BP, Oettinger said that he shared the firm’s views on a guarantee for unlimited crude oil and gas exports being included in [the United States-European Union Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership] free trade deal and welcomed more ‘thoughts’ from the company.”

The US-based Union of Concerned Scientists has ranked BP as Europe’s fiercest corporate opponent of action on climate change.