A BP oil refinery in Whiting, Indiana sprung a leak and spewed oil into Lake Michigan. There doesn’t seem to be an estimate of how much oil leaked, but it was enough to cover about 5000 square feet. This is almost certainly tar sands oil, which reacts differently in the water than conventional crude.
A malfunction at the BP refinery in Whiting forced a slug of crude oil into Lake Michigan on Monday, the company confirmed today.
It was not immediately clear how much oil spilled into the lake or how long the discharge continued. A spokesman for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management said the leak was plugged by 1 a.m. today.
The effect on Lake Michigan, the source of drinking water for 7 million people in Chicago and the suburbs, likely won’t be determined for several days. Emergency response crews from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard are on the scene.
The malfunction apparently occurred at the refinery’s largest distillation unit, the centerpiece of a $4 billion overhaul that allowed BP to process more heavy Canadian oil from the tar sands region of Alberta. The unit, which Dean said has resumed normal operations, performs one of the first steps in the refining of crude oil into gasoline and other fuels.
This is the same refinery that got a federal permit to increase the amount of mercury and other pollutants it can release into Lake Michigan a couple years ago. It needed that because refining tar sands crude is far more polluting and laden with heavy metals.