BP contains oil spill in Lake Michigan, begins cleanup

March 25, 2014

WBEZ/Michael Puente
BP is not saying how much crude oil spilled into Lake Michigan but says it has stopped and is contained.The BP Whiting Refinery is located in northwest Indiana on the shore of Lake Michigan, 20 miles southeast of Chicago, Ill.

WHITING, Ind. — BP says it has contained and is now cleaning up crude oil that spilled into Lake Michigan  from its Whiting, Indiana refinery near Chicago.

The spill was detected about 4:30 Monday afternoon.

Reminiscent of the tar balls collected off the Gulf Coast after a different BP spill a few years ago, this one was confined to a shallow cove between the massive refinery and a steel mill.

BP spokesman Scott Dean said it appears the crude oil somehow seeped into the refinery's water filtration plant adjacent to the lake.

“We were able to quickly deploy our oil spill response contractor and we’ve seen the leak stopped yesterday and we’ve got a containment boom in place that’s holding the amount of oil that was released from the discharge into this cove,” Dean said.

Dean said there have been no injuries, and cleanup activities along the 2,700 feet of affected shore line are still going on.

“The good news is the leak stopped and we’ve got it contained,” Dean said.

Dean said the cold temperature of the lake and air may have actually aided in containing the oil, turning the crude oil into like a gel-like substance.

But questions remain about how the crude oil got into the lake in the first place.

BP just completed a $4 billion modernization to the 100-year-old Whiting Refinery, the largest inland refinery in the United States.

Sources helping with the cleanup estimate about a dozen barrels of crude spilled into the lake, with some containing what’s considered sweet crude oil and some containing oil from Canada’s tar sands region.

After discovering the discharge, BP notified the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. EPA and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. Representatives from the agencies were at the refinery Monday evening.

BP says it will continue to work in full cooperation with the agencies to ensure the protection of personnel, the environment and surrounding communities.

The U.S. EPA says is unaware of any other spills from the refinery.

Mike Beslow, the onsite coordinator for the EPA at the scene, said the oil spill should not affect the quality of Lake Michigan’s drinking water.

He says it appears the oil was released from one of BP’s separators into the lake.

Beslow says the separator is like a holding pond and normally does not have oil in it.
He adds that BP’s own systems immediately detected oil that got into the water filtration plant and into the lake.

Beslow says it’s too early to determine if any fines will be assessed against BP for the spill.