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One Year After BP Whiting Spill into Lake Michigan: Local Groups Demand Action by Mayor Emanuel

CHICAGO –(ENEWSPF)—March 24, 2015. Concerned citizens of Chicago will deliver a letter to the mayor Wednesday, March 25th at 10 a.m. at City Hall in Chicago demanding a thorough public report and investigation into the BP Whiting refinery tar sands oil spill into Lake Michigan one year ago.    

Last March the refinery spilled up to 1638 gallons of tar sands oil mixed with conventional crude into Lake Michigan, 8 miles from Chicago’s water intake. 

After the spill Mayor Emanuel requested “a full accounting to the public and city” of the damage; and yet one year later, no such report has emerged and BP was not even fined.

“We have serious questions about the way in which this spill was handled by public officials,” stated Debra Michaud of the environmental group Tar Sands Free Midwest. “We were told in phone conversations with the Midwest Region 5 EPA and the Coast Guard that this was not a heavy crude/tar sands spill. A FOIA request of the U.S. EPA has revealed that it was, indeed, tar sands that spilled.” 

Pat Walter of the group Citizens Act to Protect our Water (CAPOW!) stated further, “Public officials reassured us that our drinking water was safe before water tests specific to the spill had even been completed.”

Unlike light crude, heavy tar sands oil sinks into the waterbed and cannot be fully eliminated once submerged, as evidenced by the Kalamazoo River disaster.   At more than $1.2 billion, the Kalamazoo River tar sands spill was the costliest inland oil spill in U.S. history and required the river to be dredged after 4 years of unsuccessful cleanup attempts. 

“When the drinking water of 9 million people is put at risk, we expect open and honest disclosure to the public.  Tar sands cannot be cleaned from water.” Michaud stated.

At least 8 major incidents have occurred at the plant since the refinery underwent it’s $4 billion expansion to focus its production on heavy tar sands crude from Canada.  BP Whiting’s steelworkers remain on strike over safety issues and shifts that last up to 24 hours, calling into question whether BP is putting profits over the safety of the community, it’s workers, and the environment.

Dr. Riki Ott, a survivor of the Exxon Valdez oil spill and leading expert on oil spill response, states that the inadequacy of the BP Whiting spill response stems from a much bigger problem. The National Contingency Plan (NCP) for oil spill response is extremely outdated and marred by significant gaps in coverage, particularly for spills in fresh water of unconventional oil and gas (UOG) such as tar sands oil and shale oil.  For the first time in 40 years, EPA is proposing sweeping changes for use of other chemical and biological products on fresh water spills. Also for the first time, the EPA is considering the impacts from dispersants and other products currently used in oil spill cleanup, as the use of these products can be more toxic than the oil alone. 

“We have seen first-hand that traditional response tools no longer work for these new, unconventional oils and gasses such as tar sands crude that sinks in water, or Bakken frack gas that is highly explosive.  Oil spill contingency plans are obsolete for conventional oil and gas – and completely irrelevant for unconventional oil and gas. People have the power to strengthen oil spill response to protect ourselves, our families, our homes and the things we love.” 

Public comment is open on the U.S. EPA’s proposed rules governing the use of dispersants and other chemical and biological agents on oil spills in U.S. waters.  “This is our chance to act to minimize harm from oil spills in our communities. We need to make the most of it” stated Dr. Ott.

Photos of the Whiting spill from the U.S. EPA will be available at the Facebook page, “BP Whiting Watch.”

Dr. Riki Ott will give a presentation on the National Contingency Plan on Wed. 3/25 from 6:00-9:00 PM at Multi-Kulti, 1000 N. Milwaukee Ave. Chicago

Sources: Tar Sands Free Midwest, Citizens Act to Protect our Water (CAPOW!)


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