Less than a year ago, BP started up a new unit in northwestern Indiana to process Canadian tar sands at its Whiting refinery. Today that refinery suffered a malfunction and allowed a slug of crude oil to spill into Lake Michigan a few miles away from the Chicago city limits.
It is unknown at this time how much oil spilled into the lake or for how long it discharged, but workers at the refinery reported oil on the water about 4:30 pm on Monday. However, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official said that the leak was plugged by the time he got there at 9 pm.
Crews for the oil giant BP worked Tuesday to clean up the crude oil that affected about a half-mile section of shoreline near Chicago.
The spill was reported Monday afternoon by BP, and appears to have been contained by company crew members who deployed absorbent booms around the spill site, said Mike Beslow, on-scene coordinator for the U.S. EPA’s Region 5.
“There is no known impact to wildlife or human health at this time,” Beslow said.
BP spokesman Scott Dean said the area affected by the spill was a cove along Lake Michigan at the company’s sprawling Whiting refinery, which covers about 1,400 acres.
The spill came after years of legal challenges from federal officials and environmental groups that have forced BP to take extra steps to curb air and water pollution at the nation’s seventh-largest oil refinery. The Whiting plant remains one of the largest sources of industrial pollution discharged into Lake Michigan, according to federal records.
There is concern that the source of drinking water for 7 million people in Chicago and the suburbs is only about eight miles northwest of the spill, however, officials stated there was no sign of oil drifting in that direction.
In a joint statement, U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk of Illinois said they are concerned that BP’s move to increase production could lead to more oil spills.
“We plan to hold BP accountable for this spill,” the senators said, “and will ask for a thorough report about the cause of this spill … and steps are being taken to prevent any future spill.”
BP said in a statement Tuesday evening that it believes that “an upset at a crude distillation unit may have sent crude oil into the refinery’s cooling water outfall and then into the lake.”
The company said it has taken steps to prevent another discharge and might have an estimate Wednesday on how much oil was spilled.
“EPA’s lawyers will be looking into this matter and determining whether or not enforcement action is appropriate,” EPA’s Regional administrator Susan Hedman said.
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