BP to Lake Michigan Residents: We Feel Your Pain, But We're Dumping Anyway
By Chuck Sudo in News on Aug 16, 2007 3:30PM
So the folks over at BP have been listening to your - and our - reservations over their plans to increase the level of pollution they can dump into Lake Michigan from the planned expansion of their Whiting, Indiana refinery. They even met with opponents of the expansion yesterday.
So why are we not surprised that BP said that they're doing it anyway? BP America vice chairman Stephen A. Elbert said that the planned expansion for the Whiting refinery is necessary to keep up with Midwest energy demands. Elbert also claimed that he doesn't think the increase in ammonia and other waste by-products of oil refining discharged into Lake Michigan once the refinery's expansion is complete in 2011 won't damage the water quality. "Unfortunately, we're not able to design and operate an emission-free refinery. The technology does not exist. What we will commit to is to continuously improve our process," he said.
We find this more than slightly insulting coming from a high-ranking official for an oil company that regularly touts its initiatives in alternative energy practices in its advertising. Elbert did say that some of the ideas posited by opponents of the refinery's expansion to reduce pollution discharge were ideas that BP would consider, including adding extra filtering that would reduce the amount of ammonia and solid discharge. Elbart replied that, while these were good ideas they would have experts at Purdue and Argonne National Labratory examine, "There's quite a space of what someone proposes on paper and what will work in the field. We can't just arbitrarily throw something in and pray that it works."
The meeting came a day after the EPA said that they could also do nothing about the expansion, but would work to persuade BP to consider alternatives to dumping directly into Lake Michigan, including diverting some of the waste to a nearby water treatment plant. We thought it rich of Elbart's to infer that it's because of us that BP needs to expand the Whiting refinery. But the EPA essentially pulling a Pontius Pilate and saying that they can't do anything outside of recommending alternatives for BP causes us to scratch our heads. Last we checked, the EPA is the government agency tasked with protecting the environment. They could do more than just offer options. For example, they could pull the permit until BP works with the community to comes up with ways to reduce pollution discharge that are satisfactory to both sides. We'll also hazard a guess that Elbart's assertion that there's a difference between what's proposed and what would actually work is code for "if it falls within the budget parameters of the expansion, we'll include it."
Elbart said that BP "has a gun to (its) head, so to speak." Considering the plans of an environmentally-friendly oil company (two terms we always thought were mutually exclusive) to expand and increase the pollution levels of the world's largest source of fresh water in the face of stiff and vocal opposition, we have our doubts as to who truly has the gun to their head, and who's holding the gun.