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BP breezes through hearing on air permits for Whiting expansion

Updated: December 19, 2012 1:06PM



HAMMOND — Residents had a chance Thursday to voice their opinions about two air permits that could allow the BP Whiting refinery to build and operate new equipment at their facility, designed to process more Canadian crude oil.

The two permits from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management would allow BP to build new facilities to handle higher amounts of the heavier crude oil.

At the public hearing, all speakers agreed that the new settlement for the air permits were acceptable. Some credited BP for offering to install $400 million to reduce air pollutants by 4,000 tons a year, while others praised the environmental advocacy groups that challenged the company to install the equipment.

The refinery faced opposition in 2008 when it applied for permits to expand the facility. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a number of national and state environmental protection organizations challenged BP in federal court. The company settled in May, agreeing to pay a total of $420 million for equipment to reduce pollution emmissions, technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emmissions, and civil fines.

The equipment is supposed to target pollutants that cause respiratory disease and help monitor emissions. This includes 10 flares designed to burn 98 percent of gases that escape the facility. Also, four monitors along the perimeter of the refinery will check the air for pollutants like benzene, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide and other chemicals. BP has also agreed to provide the results on a public website once a week for two years, although the company said it plans to offer the data for longer.

“We’re glad that we were able to come to this resolution,” BP spokesman Thomas Keilman said. “All the parties came together to find a mutual settlement. We’re pleased with the proposed changes.”

Ann Alexander, an attorney with the National Resources Defense Council, said the environmental groups, which include the Sierra Club, the Hoosier Environmental Council, Save the Dunes and others, were satisfied with the air permit requirements.

“We’re fine with this now,” she said, “The permit incorporates all the requirements in the law, as well as the consent decrees we filed.”

Steven Kozel Sr., president of the Calumet Project, said his organization is also happy that BP will install the new air monitoring system along the fence line of the facility. This system, he said, goes beyond the requirements set by the EPA, and uses a special light beam that can track emissions in real time.

“They will monitor the quality of the air,” Kozel said, “and will have a 24-hour read-out. So if there are any problems, BP can take care of it.”

Dorthea Zrnchik of Whiting was present at the hearing but chose not to speak publicly. She said that as long as BP tries to follow the EPA’s requirements, she’s happy with the expansion.

“If they do everything they’re supposed to, I’m fine with having them here,” she said, “As long as they comply, how can you argue with that?”

Her husband, Joe Zrnchik, sees it differently. While he understands that the jobs in the area are helpful, the noise and pollutants could negatively affect the community, encouraging people to live elsewhere.

“I want to be able to sit in my backyard without being blown away,” he said, “I want to see them make a go at this, but not at my expense.”



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