BP is emptying dangerous levels of ammonia, mercury, and factory sludge that contains other toxic heavy metals into Lake Michigan, thanks to Indiana politicians and regulators who have practically given the oil giant and its massive Whiting refinery, the seventh-largest in the nation, a carte blanche on waste dumping.
According to the Chicago Tribune, BP vowed six years ago to develop “cutting-edge technology that could sharply reduce toxic mercury discharged into Lake Michigan” at its Whiting refinery, about 20 miles southeast of Chicago across the Illinois-Indiana border. BP promised to clean up its act when it faced mounting public outrage, environmental petitioning, and Congressional pressure regarding its contamination of the lake that millions of people rely on for drinking water, fishing, and recreation.
BP was on track with a couple of promising technological solutions to mitigate its toxic waste problem, but then Indiana environmental regulators stepped into the picture and exempted BP from adhering to federal mercury standards of 1.3 parts per trillion, allowing it to dump nearly 18 times that amount into the water. The exemption, which was supposed to expire last year, cleared the way for a $3.8-billion expansion of the refinery. Indiana officials extended the exemption once, and it is still place.
The expansion will equip the Whiting refinery with the ability to process Canadian tar sands into fuel, a plan that anticipates eventual passage of a law allowing the controversial Keystone XL pipeline to be constructed from Canada to the Gulf Coast. In order to move through the pipeline, the tar sands must be chemically treated and liquefied.
Indiana now wants to give BP an indefinite pass on sound mercury restrictions, and thus the oil giant loses its incentive to “do the right thing,” as it has assured millions of people and businesses on the Gulf Coast it would in the wake of its massive 2010 oil spill. BP says it will continue to work on research and development of mercury filtering technologies and report back in 2015.
According to the Chicago Tribune, “Though the amount of mercury that BP’s treatment plant puts into the lake is small compared with what falls into the water from air pollution, the federal limit of 1.3 parts per trillion reflects decades of research showing that even tiny drops of the brain-damaging metal can contaminate fish and threaten people.”
According to federal records, BP’s Whiting refinery is one of a few heavy industrial polluters that continue to dump wastewater loaded with mercury and other contaminants into southern Lake Michigan.