Durbin, Kirk: BP Must Be A Better Neighbor To Lake Michigan, Chicago

Senators Met Today With BP America President John Minge To Discuss Last Month’s Oil Spill into Lake Michigan at the Company’s Whiting, Ind. Refinery

[CHICAGO] – U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) today met with BP America Chairman and President John Minge to voice serious concerns over last month’s spill at the company’s Whiting, Ind. facility.  Noting that the plant recently expanded to double the amount of heavy oil sands it processes and that last month’s spill was just the most recent in a string of environmental issues it has caused, the Senators said BP must take steps to prevent any further harm to Lake Michigan or nearby residents.


“Many communities and industries depend on Lake Michigan for drinking water, transportation, and recreation,” Durbin said.  “BP recently expanded its Whiting facility to process more heavy, dirty oil, and last month’s spill into Lake Michigan was just the latest in a series of environmental incidents following that expansion.  Senator Kirk and I wanted to meet with President Minge to hold BP accountable for cleaning up this mess and to let him know that we will not stand for further harm to our cherished lake.  Lake Michigan is our city’s greatest asset, and it’s time for BP to step up and become better neighbors to the people of Chicago.”


"From drinking water to transportation and recreation, Lake Michigan is crucial to our way of life," said Senator Kirk.  "There is no room for error with our natural resources and BP needs to prove it is capable of protecting our lake from further pollution and contamination."


On March 24, a mechanical glitch in BP’s refinery in Whiting caused up to 1,638 gallons of crude oil to be released into Lake Michigan.  The glitch occurred at the refinery’s largest crude distillation unit, the centerpiece of a recent renovation which allows the facility to process more crude oil from Canadian tar sands.  That oil is heavier and dirtier than the domestic crude which had previously been the plant’s primary focus.


Following the spill, Durbin and Kirk requested today’s meeting with BP to discuss the company’s clean-up efforts.  Today, the Senators addressed some questions about the spill that have gone unanswered, specifically asking about the makeup of the oil that was spilled, what BP has done to ensure its new equipment does not lead to any further spills, and what steps the company has taken to ensure drinking water in nearby cities has not been contaminated.  Lake Michigan provides drinking water to more than 7 million people and several Illinois towns draw their water from locations near last month’s oil spill.


Durbin and Kirk have consistently fought to protect the Great Lakes from harmful pollution. In July 2007, the Chicago Tribune published a report on BP's efforts to increase pollution in Lake Michigan and expand its plant in Whiting.  Durbin and Kirk led the charge with other federal officials to stop the BP Refinery from dumping increased amounts of pollutants such as ammonia and Total Suspended Solids into the wastewater. 


Then-Representative Kirk led a delegation of 19 other Members of Congress in writing to the EPA urging a formal review of the initial permit issued by the state of Indiana.  That same summer, the House of Representatives passed a resolution Kirk cosponsored that condemned BP for degrading the Great Lakes.


In the summer of 2007, Durbin joined then-Representative Rahm Emanuel in calling repeatedly on the EPA to place a hold on the permit.  They met with the CEO of BP on July 24, 2007 and less than a month later, BP announced that the company had reversed its decision to dump more pollutants from their Indiana Whiting Refinery into Lake Michigan.


Following news reports last summer that a proposed National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit issued by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management lacked adequate safeguards to reduce mercury discharges into the Great Lakes, both members called on the EPA to take action.  Durbin wrote EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman asking for stricter limits on mercury dumping at the plant while Kirk sent a letter to EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe in urging the agency to review BP's permit.  The final permit included adequate safeguards to ensure Lake Michigan is protected from harmful mercury pollution discharged by the Whiting refinery.


In addition, most of the petroleum coke stored in facilities near residential neighborhoods on Chicago’s Southeast Side is produced at the BP Whiting facility.  The refinery’s recent expansion will allow it to triple the amount of pet coke it produces, to over 40,000 barrels each day.  In December, Durbin asked the Centers for Disease Control to study the risk posed by that pet coke and urged the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to make sure pet coke storage sites in Chicago were complying with all federal air quality standards and regulations.


“History makes it clear that BP has a lot of work to do improving the safety and reliability of its facility at Whiting,” Durbin said.  “I hope President Minge will take what he heard today and start BP on a new road towards responsible operation on Lake Michigan.”