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NEWS: BP’s Whiting Refinery a threat to Lake Michigan

BP Whiting Refinery. Photo credit: Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana

BP Whiting Refinery. Photo credit: Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana

BP’s Whiting Refinery, now undergoing a modernization project to refine more tar sands bitumen from northern Alberta by 2013, currently has a capacity of 405,000 barrels a day and is located in Whiting, Indiana on the shores of Lake Michigan. About 10 percent of its capacity now comes from the tar sands. It is fed by the Enbridge pipeline that burst in July 2010 and spilled more than 23,000 barrels of crude oil – with the spill site including Talmadge Creek and a 48-kilometre length of the Kalamazoo River which connects to Lake Michigan. The refinery has its wastewaster treatment plant in Chicago, Illinois, also on Lake Michigan.

The New York Times recently reported, “BP, the British oil giant, owns the century-old Standard refinery, the largest inland oil refinery in the United States. …(A citizens group called the Calumet Project) are especially concerned now that the refinery is undergoing a large expansion to process more Canadian tar sands oil by 2013. …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.”

“Concerns about the discharges into the lake are but one issue for environmentalists as the $3.8 billion expansion moves toward completion in two years. 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. Environmental groups appealed the air permit that Indiana granted BP in 2008, saying it omitted expected increases in emissions, particularly from flaring, the burning off of toxic gases that shoots flames into the sky. (The pollutants include volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, benzene, and lead.) The Environmental Protection Agency agreed and in 2009 ordered the state to redo the permit (which is now being negotiated).”

The Toledo Blade recently commented, “Scientists say the most persistent toxic substances that affect the Great Lakes — mercury, PCBs, lead — come from the sky, not from discharges into the water. Many pollutants settle on the water and work their way into the human food chain through fish. Ozone is one of six major types of air pollution the federal Clean Air Act requires the government to review at least once every five years, to reflect advances in pollution-capturing technology. Mr. Obama’s decision to (delay an update of the ozone standard until 2013) comes after two years of foot-dragging, even after his own administration stated that the standard set by the George W. Bush administration was no longer legally defensible.”

And last year, the Michigan Messenger reported, “The plant’s un-permitted modifications have resulted in a significant increase in nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter less than 10 microns emissions at a major pollution source in an area that already has very poor air quality, EPA said. The agency warned that these emissions contribute to acid rain…”

The New York Times adds, “The (British oil giant’s) critics also point to risks in transporting more tar sands in and out of the area. A January report by the Pipeline Safety Trust, a federally financed nonprofit watchdog group set up after a fatal 1999 pipeline explosion in Bellingham, Wash., and environmental groups said pipelines carrying tar sands were more likely to spill than those carrying conventional oil, based on an analysis of spills from 2002 to 2010. The report’s authors noted that tar sands were grittier and more corrosive than conventional oil and must be piped at higher temperatures and higher pressure.”

The Council of Canadians, along with the US-based groups Food & Water Watch and On the Commons, are planning a speaking tour this spring to defend the Great Lakes as a commons, public trust and a protected bio-region. Whiting, Indiana is a possible stop on this tour. Look for more details soon.

For an overview of the threats currently faced by the Great Lakes please go to the blog at http://canadians.org/blog/?p=3293 and to our Great Lakes campaign web-page at http://canadians.org/greatlakes. To read Maude Barlow’s Our Great Lakes Commons: A People’s Plan to Protect the Great Lakes Forever, please go to http://canadians.org/water/documents/greatlakes/GreatLakes-0311.pdf.