State permit for BP refinery expansion in Whiting sets new limits on release of mercury
By Christin Nance Lazerus firstname.lastname@example.org September 25, 2013 5:50PM
Updated: October 28, 2013 7:17AM
WHITING — The Indiana Department of Environmental Management issued a wastewater discharge permit for the BP Whiting refinery on Wednesday that reduces the amount of mercury the company can discharge into Lake Michigan by more than 50 percent.
Under the new permit, BP cannot release more that 8.75 parts per trillion of mercury. A previous modification, in February 2012, to BP’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, allowed a discharge of 23 parts per trillion.
BP spokesman Scott Dean said recent investments in the refinery’s new water treatment equipment should further reduce mercury discharge, which is already “less than one tablespoon per year.”
“Having said that, the mercury limit in the revised permit has decreased by more than half and the refinery needs to gain experience operating the new equipment before we will know if the refinery can successfully and consistently meet this revised limit,” Dean said. “Although we can’t guarantee this stricter permit limit is achievable in real-world operating conditions, we are committed to trying.”
In the spring, the Alliance for the Great Lakes and other groups requested IDEM make several changes to the permit, including strengthening its stormwater pollution prevention plan, implementing best available technology controls for mercury and other pollutants, and reducing fish kills from its cooling water intake.
“Pollution from this facility to Lake Michigan should go in one direction — down — even as BP ramps up its processing of tar sands,” said Lyman Welch, director of the Alliance’s Water Quality Program. “We are pleased the agency responded to our recommendations by strengthening the mercury requirements and requiring BP to submit and update its stormwater plan. Still, we are disappointed IDEM did not go as far as we’d hoped to protect the waters of the Great Lakes.”
BP Whiting is nearing completion of its $4.2 billion modernization project, which will allow it to process Canadian tar sands into petroleum. The project is expected to conclude late this year.
Under the final permit, BP must submit a report by March 2015 on the economic viability of mercury control technology and install it if IDEM determines the technology is available and economically achievable. Purdue University Calumet’s Water Institute and the Argonne National Laboratories have researched technologies to reduce mercury emissions under a $5 million grant from BP.
The permit also requires BP to study ways to better protect against fish kills caused by the plant’s cooling water intakes and submit a report in two years.