The story of British Petroleum (BP) being allowed to dump MORE waste into Lake Michigan caught our eye.
The story was picked up briefly this week by our local media and also on the AP, UPI and important publications like the Chicago Tribune. We live in the shadow of Lake Michigan – we are considered the Gold Coast of Michigan after all – and felt our readers could use an update on what this dumping issue means.
We have extra interest in corporate dumping after all our work in the Berkey & Gay - Toxic Towers Grand Rapids, MI incident (see our side bar menu for articles that relate back to that scandal). We understand how easy it is for corporations to evade and circumvent laws and do bad deeds with barely a blink from officials. In BP’s defense, they got approval before dumping instead of doing it behind our backs and then covering up the crime as happened in the Toxic Towers case.
Even with BP receiving the blessing of the EPA and the State of Indiana - that doesn't mean the final results are good for all of us. Read on.
HISTORY OF BP AND WASTE DISHCARGE
The Whiting, Indiana refinery plant was originally built by Standard Oil (J. D. Rockefeller) back in 1889. It is located just off the beautiful shores of southern Lake Michigan on Indiana’s border.
The facility processes about 400,000 barrels of crude oil daily. The current production level is expected to grow by about 15% by the time the newest 3.8 billion dollar expansion is completed in 2011. BP itself states that once the expansion is done, the re-configured refinery will go from 30% heavy Canadian crude to 90%.
Approval was granted recently by the EPA, State of Indiana and BP for additional waste dumping of about 1,584 pounds of ammonia and 4,925 pounds of industrial sludge per day into Lake Michigan in order to increase refining capabilities for heavier Canadian crude oil. Extracting petroleum from this heavier crude is a dirtier process than conventional methods. That means more energy is needed to produce the final product. Thus, there is a corresponding increase in waste and greenhouse gases as well. In the end, the approval to deviate from current environmental laws by The State of Indiana and the EPA means 54% more ammonia and 35% more sludge are going to be added to Lake Michigan on a daily basis.
Even with this increase, the refinery will still be within federal water pollution guidelines.
BP has a formal letter to the public on their website www.bp.com by Dan Sajkowski , BP Whiting Refinery Business Unit Leader.
They feel the recent news reports about wastewater discharge is inaccurate and their letter helps to clarify the issues. BP assures the public that any new environmental permits have been done according to acceptable guidelines.
They assure everyone that they meet or exceed federal and state regulatory requirements. They clarify in this letter that sludge does not go directly into the lake. It’s only discharged after it is treated and the final treated wastewater is 99.999% water ONLY. The same with ammonia discharge.
BP believes it is continuing to provide a reliable and clean fuel supply to the nation and the people that need its products – products that include gasoline, diesel fuel and jet fuel. They employ 1,700 BP employees at the refinery and another 2,000 contract workers in the Great Lakes region.
They advise the public that they remain committed to keeping the environment clean along with creating jobs and upgrading the facility for a better tomorrow.
L.AW. TAKE ON THINGS
Because there isn’t enough room at the current 1,400 acre BP site to update the refinery’s water treatment plant, the surrounding environment will be negatively impacted. BP assures the public that a mixing zone is in place to assist the discharge problem (equipment installed about 200 feet offshore that mixes toxic waste with clean lake water), yet they don't tell the whole story that actively diluting pollution this way is actually banned in Lake Michigan under current Indiana law and they had to get an exemption to get this done. Regulators granted BP the first ever exemption for this.
If BP wants to refine more oil products for the good of the nation, that’s understandable. We are not against oil companies, refineries or the energy system when they are trying to increase availability of a product we all need each day. Especially when it means getting further away from Middle Eastern oil. On the flip side, we aren’t tree huggers looking for the environment to trump anything to do with man either. We are looking more for a balance between man and nature – the best we can.
What seems wrong is that the facility in Whiting is getting old and is not appropriate any longer to handle the additional growth and corresponding waste. The surrounding region then must pay the burden for this lack of planning and internal investment by this company. BP is the one that chose NOT to install more effective pollution controls at the nation’s fourth largest refinery until fairly recently (and still not at the level truly needed). Due to the lack of new refinery’s being built in the last 30 years around the U.S. Citizens are paying the price right here in Michigan for this lack of advancement and endless EPA restrictions. The big question is why residents, animals and plant life in Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana must pay the price for everyone else? Discharge into Lake Michigan will continue to have negative results to our lives and ecosystem. Increased ammonia will allow algae to grow faster and kill off fish. Heavy metals contained in the sludge will affect humans, birds and other local wildlife. The domino process from these two things will be without question harmful long term.
Is a handful of additional jobs (roughly 80) and further refining really worth the damage to The Great Lakes - the world’s largest surface body of freshwater in the world and the contamination of drinking water for an estimated 40 million Americans? The protection of The Great Lakes should always trump an aged refining facility. We say the tradeoff is too great.
If we have one claim to fame in the Midwest and especially the great state of Michigan, it's the beauty of the Great Lakes. We not only view this precious body of water, but we play in it, eat from it and drink from it as well. Increased pollution will be devastating to all of us – humans, fish and wildlife. Let’s not forget how many rivers and inland lakes tie into the Great Lakes system as well. It’s possible to get cross contamination.
The current direction that the EPA, State of Indiana and BP is taking is to water down The Clean Water Act of the 1970’s. An act that had been slowly reversing the awful trend of decades past where grease, oil and other toxic chemicals had been pumped from local factories, mills and refineries into the Great Lakes unchecked. With the relaxing of important regulations such as that from BP this past week, the clock begins to be turned back.
We don’t support this additional discharge into Lake Michigan.
POLITICAL ACTIONS AND REACTIONS TAKEN TO DATE
Vern Ehlers (R-MI, Barry-Ionia-Kent Counties) and Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) have introduced a concurrent resolution on Capital Hill expressing disapproval to this action as of 7/18/07. Their websites state what the five items are that they hope will be addressed. The actions are:
1. Congress expresses its disapproval of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s issuance of a permit allowing BP to increase their daily dumping of ammonia and sludge into Lake Michigan;
2. Congress urges the State of Indiana to reconsider issuance of a permit allowing BP to increase their daily dumping of ammonia and sludge into Lake Michigan; 3. Congress should take action to protect and restore the Great Lakes; 4. The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s actions in the Great Lakes basin should be consistent with the goal of preserving and restoring the Great Lakes; and 5. The United States Environmental Protection Agency should not allow increased dumping of chemicals and pollutants into the Great Lakes.
2. Congress urges the State of Indiana to reconsider issuance of a permit allowing BP to increase their daily dumping of ammonia and sludge into Lake Michigan;
3. Congress should take action to protect and restore the Great Lakes;
4. The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s actions in the Great Lakes basin should be consistent with the goal of preserving and restoring the Great Lakes; and
5. The United States Environmental Protection Agency should not allow increased dumping of chemicals and pollutants into the Great Lakes.
The Local Area Watch of Grand Rapids, Michigan is offering its support to Representatives Ehlers (R-MI) and Emanuel (D-IL) in their introduction of the concurrent resolution. We let them know of our agreement with their actions by sending an email about their proposal. I received a return reply from the congressman’s office within a day of my initial contact.
R. Ehlers supported all the BP wastewater discharge details that I summarized earlier. Beyond that, he noted, “I am deeply concerned that a permit of this nature was issued. I support the expansion of refinery capacity, which can help to lower gas prices, but I do not believe that these benefits should come at the expense of our most precious natural resource”.
R. Ehlers further noted, “The Great Lakes are the world's largest freshwater system and serve as a source of drinking water, food, jobs and recreation for more than forty million Americans. It is critical that we enhance our restoration efforts for this critical resource, not degrade the condition of the lakes even further. The permit for increased dumping of harmful pollutants is totally inconsistent with the goals of Great Lakes restoration. Ammonia promotes algae blooms that can kill fish and trigger beach closings. TSS is also harmful to the ecosystem in a variety or respects - these solids settle to the bottom of the water body, often choking or drowning aquatic life and interfering with fish spawning. TSS discharges also contribute to algae blooms, which not only overtake the native ecosystem by taking nutrients away from the surrounding plant life , but also feed harmful bacteria which remove all the oxygen, kill aquatic life and ruin beaches.” We requested in our note to his office that they stay on top of this issue beyond the initial concurrent resolution put forward by his office and Illinois Congressman Emanuel.
Finally, Congressman Ehlers advised The Local Area Watch of the following, “I have joined several of my colleagues in writing to Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana , and to Stephen Johnson, the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to express our serious concerns with this permit. We have asked the EPA to review the matter to make sure these actions do not violate the Clean Water Act, and we have urged the State of Indiana to take a second look at the dumping permit and take the steps necessary to revoke it. I have also cosponsored a Congressional resolution that disapproves of the permit and says that the EPA should not allow increased dumping of chemicals and pollutants into the Great Lakes”.
We sent an email to each of the local mayoral candidates for Grand Rapids - George Heartwell, Rick Tormala and Jim Rinck (we could not find an email contact address for Ms. Miller or we would have included her) to find out if they had a position on this issue.
Mayor Heartwell was quick to reply to the BP increased dumping problem. He believes the additional wastewater discharge issue is of great importance to our region and state. He told us, “Damage to any portion of the Great Lakes basin is damage to the whole basin. We simply cannot allow the dangerous levels of toxic discharge that BP proposes. What was Indiana thinking when this approved this permit?"
Commissioner Tormala advised us of his thoughts on the issue by stating, "The dumping of toxic chemicals into Lake Michigan is totally unacceptable and threatens our environment while posing a direct public health threat to the millions of Great Lakes residents (including Grand Rapids) that use Lake Michigan as a source of drinking water. The EPA is looking more like a red tape cutter for big business than the guardian of public health and welfare. The Commission can and should do a letter to Congress and the EPA objecting."
By the deadline of this article, we had not received feedback from the Rinck campaign.
Finally, we submitted an email to BP expressing our disagreement with their actions and the expected results to the environment. We are concerned at the double standard they are creating when you compare their heavily advertised “green” ads on t.v., newspapers and website versus what they are doing in the real world. Even though they are under state and federal waste discharge levels, I’m not sure it’s their proudest moment as they are choosing to increase their pollution discharge levels instead of decreasing or eliminating it altogether. We feel they should be exposed on this contradiction of words versus actions.
By the deadline of this article, we had not received a return reply from BP.
ACTIONS YOU CAN TAKE
Without question, there are many pressing issues of great importance in all of our lives today; the war effort, terrorism, illegal immigration, the economy, health care, taxes, jobs, business growth, education and our environment . We can’t make them all a priority all the same time, but we can make a difference with just a quick e-mail now and then . It’s up to each one of us, Midwest Am ericans and Michiganders to stand up and consider doing something about the increased BP dumping issue. I was pleased to see half of my emails were quickly returned. I hope you'll consider contacting one of these officials if you have a position as well.
Contact addresses are:
BP: www.bp.com – go to “contact us’ and send off an e-mail letter
VERN EHLERS: www.house.gov/ehlers/contact - go to Congressman Vern Ehlers (you must be a resident of his district to contact him) and send off an e-mail letter
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: www.house.gov – and search for your representative if you live in any county other than that of Mr. Ehlers . Then send off an e-mail letter
GEORGE HEARTWELL: firstname.lastname@example.org – send off an e-mail letter
JIM RINCK: www.jimrinck.com – there is a section to send emails and contact him direct
The Local Area Watch