BP Spill at Tar Sands Refinery Has 'Crapped Up Lake Michigan'

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by
Common Dreams

BP Spill at Tar Sands Refinery Has 'Crapped Up Lake Michigan'

Company with tarnished past doubling tar sands processing near major water source

by
Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

Oil giant BP has caused yet another oil spill in a crucial water way this week, following an increase in tar sands refining at its Indiana plant on the shores of Lake Michigan.

BP notified the federal government’s National Response Center around 5 p.m. Monday that its Whiting Refinery was leaking oil into the lake, which is the source of drinking water for 7 million people in nearby Chicago, due to a malfunction in the refinery's cooling water system.

The spill comes less than a year after BP started processing Canadian tar sands at the refinery. Tar sands oil, many environmental groups have warned, is the "the dirtiest fuel on Earth" and is "more corrosive, more toxic, and more difficult to clean up than conventional crude."

Enumerating a long list of historical problems at the Whiting Refinery, Henry Henderson at the Natural Resources Defense Council notes Wednesday, "The week of the Exxon Valdez disaster anniversary and a week after the Council of Canadians released a report highlighting the threat that tar sands oil imposes on the Great Lakes, BP did what it always does: crapped up Lake Michigan."

He continues:

While the scope of yesterday’s spill is clearly a tiny fraction of the Kalamazoo disaster, it’s still not clear what kind and how much oil made its way into Lake Michigan from the refinery. A day later, we still don’t know [...]

It is that lack of transparency that drives environmentalists and government decisionmakers alike crazy. The public needs to know what has made its way into their drinking water sources and whether it is being adequately cleaned. Sure, state and federal regulators need to do better: press calls to state and federal EPA were routed directly to BP to answer.

"The malfunction occurred at the refinery’s largest crude distillation unit, the centerpiece of a nearly $4 billion overhaul that allowed BP to process more heavy Canadian oil from the tar sands region of Alberta," reports the Chicago Tribune. "The unit ... performs one of the first steps in the refining of crude oil into gasoline and other fuels."

It was still uncertain Wednesday as to exactly how much of the oil spilled. BP said it had managed to stop the discharge by Tuesday and cleanup efforts continued throughout the day on Wednesday.

The EPA stated:

Under EPA oversight, BP has deployed more than 2,000 feet of boom to contain the oil. In addition, the company has used vacuum trucks to remove about 5,200 gallons of an oil/water mixture from the spill location. BP crews also are combing a nearby company-owned beach for oil globs and conducting air monitoring to ensure the safety of the public. The U.S. Coast Guard has flown over the area and has not observed any visible sheen beyond the boomed area.

Sens. Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin of Illinois said in a joint statement that they are "extremely concerned" about future spills. BP recently said they are doubling its processing of heavy crude oil at the refinery.

"We plan to hold BP accountable for this spill and will ask for a thorough report about the cause of this spill, the impact of the Whiting Refinery’s production increase on Lake Michigan, and what steps are being taken to prevent any future spill,” they stated.

A recent report by the Council of Canadians, warns that the Great Lakes are at risk of becoming a "liquid pipeline" for the dirtiest forms of oil and gas available, citing ongoing plans to transport "extreme energy" sources such as tar sands under and across the Great Lakes.

“We are only seeing the tip of the iceberg and only just beginning to understand the grave impacts these extreme energy projects are going to have on the Great Lakes,” said national chairperson of the Council Maude Barlow. “We often see these projects approved piecemeal but we have to step back and think about how all these projects are going to affect the Lakes.”

This week's spill comes four years after BP's Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, the largest in U.S. history, which continues to plague the Gulf of Mexico.

Despite BP's history, the EPA recently removed a ban on BP drilling contracts and new leases in the U.S., an offer BP was quick to capitalize on.

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