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BP, others cleaning up crude spill in Lake Michigan

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Updated: April 27, 2014 6:21AM



WHITING — An oil spill at the BP Whiting refinery Monday dumped an estimated 420 gallons of crude oil into Lake Michigan, but BP, assisted by state and federal officials, insists the spill was curbed and is cleaning up the oil through booms and vacuum trucks.

BP spokesman Scott Dean said officials noticed an oil sheen on the water outside the water treatment plant about 4:30 p.m. Monday. U.S Environmental Protection Agency officials in a Monday flyover estimated the sheen covered 5,000 square yards.

A cleanup plan was set into motion, and mitigation crews started arriving on scene about an hour later. BP officials discovered that an oil processing error caused a slug of crude to be injected into the No. 6 separator, which is a cooling water system that typically has no contact with oil, and it was eventually discharged into the lake through an outflow pipe.

By 7 p.m., a 1,000-foot-long boom was unfurled into the cove between BP’s water treatment plant and the west end of steelmaker ArcelorMittal’s property. A 4,000-foot-long boom also was used to contain the oil. Workers wore respirators for precautionary reasons until air-quality tests could confirm it was safe to breathe, a BP official said.

Dean said that BP notified the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. EPA and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management immediately, and they arrived at the refinery Monday evening. EPA’s on-scene coordinator Mike Beslow said BP has stopped the oil flow by the time he arrived around 9 p.m.

An estimated 10 to 12 barrels were discharged into the lake before it was stopped, according to a source close to the cleanup. A barrel typically contains about 42 gallons of oil.

BP’s response team also used vacuum trucks to clean up the oil, and wind and weather have been favorable in pushing the oil toward the shore. Cold temperatures are helping to congeal the oil into waxy balls that workers can pick up and deposit into bags along with oil-soaked sands, Dean said.

BP and the EPA said there is no immediate timetable on the length of the cleanup.

There were no injuries involved in the spill, Dean said.

No operations were interrupted by the situation, he said, and BP engineers believe they have chased down the source of the problem.

A source close to the investigation said the part likely at fault is in a newer part of the plant. EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman said they are not aware of any previous spills at the refinery.

Oil spills are violations of the Clean Water Act. A source close to the investigation said fines from the EPA and IDEM are likely.

Beslow said that EPA officials do not expect the oil to impact drinking water in the Chicago and Northwest Indiana area.

After a $4 billion upgrade, BP Whiting is in the process of shifting the bulk of its refining from light, sweet crude to heavy oil sands from Alberta. It’s expected to reach a peak capacity of 413,000 barrels a day this spring.

Nicole Barker, executive director of Save the Dunes, said it appears that the size of the spill was be small and BP got it under control quickly, but the impact of future spills is a concern.

“We’ve been working on looking regionally at what could happen if an oil spill happened in Lake Michigan,” Barker said. “We’ve looked at how far away waterway crossings are and many are within 20 miles of Lake Michigan. When an Enbridge pipeline spilled near Kalamazoo, Mich. (in July 2010), the oil traveled 40 miles down the waterway. We think of it from a natural resources and human health perspective, but also how it would affect local operations. It can shut down ability to produce oil, steel mills couldn’t pull water, also power plants.”

Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., released a joint statement Tuesday, expressing concern about the impact of the spill.

“We are encouraged to learn that the source of the spill has been closed, the oil is contained and conditions on Lake Michigan are such that the impact of the spill could be minimal. We also understand that work to remove the oil from the Lake is well underway,” the senators said. “However, three weeks ago, BP announced a plan to nearly double its processing of heavy crude oil at its BP Whiting Refinery. Given today’s events and BP’s decision to increase production, we are extremely concerned about the possibility of a future spill that may not be so easily contained.”



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