October 20, 2009 at 1:03 pm #2924
Obama’s EPA orders more tests for BP refinery
Chicago Breaking News / October 19, 2009 9:34 PM | UPDATED STORY
The Obama administration is cracking down on BP as the oil company overhauls its massive refinery in northwest Indiana, one of the largest sources of air pollution in the Chicago area.
In response to a petition from environmental groups, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today ordered Indiana regulators to revamp a new operating permit for the Midwest’s biggest refinery. The groups, along with elected officials in Illinois, contend Indiana had allowed the oil giant to avoid stringent requirements under the federal Clean Air Act.
Tougher pollution limits could help relieve problems with lung-damaging soot and smog in the metropolitan area that stretches around the tip of Lake Michigan.
In a 24-page order, the agency directed Indiana to take a new look at several sources of air pollution at the Whiting refinery, 15 miles southeast of downtown Chicago. The results are due in 90 days.
The decision is a policy shift by the EPA. In the last months of the Bush administration, the agency signed off on the BP project and rejected the concerns raised in Monday’s order by President Barack Obama’s EPA.
Critics say the operating permit was typical of Indiana’s lax approach to BP, which has embarked on a $3.8 billion upgrade and expansion of its Whiting plant to process heavy crude pulled from tar-soaked clay and sand in Canada. The state earlier had allowed BP to dump more water pollution into Lake Michigan, but the company backed off after Tribune stories prompted a storm of public protest.
“This refinery expansion is clearly going to dump additional pollution on the surrounding communities, and the law requires BP to control it,” said Ann Alexander, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “BP has been playing games with the numbers to try to duck that responsibility, but the jig is up.”
One of the problems outlined in the EPA order involves a dozen flares that burn off pressurized gases from the refinery. The federal agency has accused BP of repeatedly violating pollution limits on its flares. But when the Indiana Department of Environmental Management awarded the company a new permit last year, it agreed with BP that the flares will emit virtually no toxic fumes when the expansion project is completed.
The EPA also directed Indiana to re-examine emissions from equipment that turns some of the heavy oil into petroleum coke. The state agency declared the emissions would be “negligible,” a conclusion the federal EPA suggests is unrealistic given the amount of pollution coke production creates.
Company officials and Indiana regulators said they still are reviewing the EPA order. BP plans to proceed with the Whiting project under the terms of a separate construction permit, but it will not be allowed to operate the new equipment until the dispute is resolved.
“We’re surprised, to say the least, considering that EPA signed off on the operating permit a little over a year ago,” said Scott Dean, a BP spokesman.
The EPA’s order could set a precedent for refinery projects in Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio.
BP and Indiana regulators say the Whiting project will cut the amount of air pollution the refinery emits. But even with various improvements in the last decade, the refinery is the sixth-largest source of industrial air pollution in the Chicago area, a Tribune review of federal records shows.
The 246 tons of airborne chemicals and heavy metals emitted by the refinery in 2007, the last year for which figures are available, included toxic benzene, ammonia and mercury.
“BP needs to come clean about what this expansion really will mean for clean air and public health,” said Meleah Geertsma, a staff attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Center, one of the groups that challenged the permit.
In the last two years, the EPA has cited BP several times for violating the Clean Air Act. The company has acknowledged that for the last six years it violated limits on benzene, a volatile chemical linked to leukemia and other health problems.
The agency rejected a plea in the environmental groups’ petition to impose limits on greenhouse gases in BP’s permit. According to BP, heat-trapping pollution from the refinery is expected to rise 40 percent when the expansion is done, an amount equivalent to adding 320,000 cars to the nation’s highways.
The Obama administration is pushing Congress to enact the first limits on climate change pollution and vows to use the Clean Air Act to do so if it fails to act. But the EPA concluded the BP permit is not the proper forum to address the problem — at this point, at least.
October 20, 2009 at 1:05 pm #5954
The Environmentalist couldnt win in repeated petitions/filings over several years in objective state review of facts & so now they are leaning on Obama’s Climate Change objectives to stop BP Whiting project permits in same nonsense that failed at state level.
Without expansions/modernization – all these older Midwest Refineries become shutdown canidates and US transportation fuels become much more volatile & dependent on large Coastal refineries and the pipelines supplying them.
The US refining infrastructure is going critical as 45 year block against any new refineries links up with continued consolidation & shutdown of smaller refineries dependent on sweet crude that is no longer available. The idea that Ethanol or electric cars will provide any level of substitution in the next 5 years is stupidity on steriods – and puts US in case for not just foreign crude imports but much higher levels of gasoline & diesel imports as well.
Recent $147/Bbl crude &/or $4/gallon gasoline are going to seem cheap before people realize that it is these Environmental wingnuts & not “Big Oil” causing a non-existing problem in our Oil & Gas industries based on non-existing “Global Warming” boogey man that is more myth/fraud than fact.
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