Thursday, August 2, 2007

Beyond Pertroleum?

In recent years British Petroleum (commonly referred to as BP) has presented itself as the oil company on the forefront of environmental awareness and stewardship. BP now proudly exalts itself as being "Beyond Petroleum" and has adopted a a new green/flower/sun looking logo that looks like something that you find on a Sierra Club brochure.

But unless "Beyond Petroleum" is a reference to pollutants like ammonia and industrial sludge, the British oil giant is not living up to its newly developed image. The BP oil refinery in Whiting, IN (just outside Chicago) has been authorized by state regulators to dump significantly more ammonia (54% increase) and sludge (34% increase) into Lake Michigan. In order to clear the way for a planned 3.8 billion dollar expansion of the refinery, BP will now be permitted to pollute the lake with an average of 1,584 pounds of ammonia and 4,925 pounds of sludge per day. The expansion will allow the refinery to process Canadian heavy crude oil (extracting petroleum from heavy crude oil is a dirtier process than conventional methods) and is expected to create 80 new jobs at the facility.

This level of increase in pollution is not an inherent consequence of the proposed expansion. The founder of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, Lee Botts, has said "We're not necessarily opposed to the project, but if they are investing all of these billions, they can surely afford to spend some more to protect the lake." BP has insisted that there isn't enough room at the 1,400 acre site to upgrade the water treatment plant which could limit the pollution increase. Federal and state regulators have agreed with BP on this issue.

Hold on for one second, I'm going to really try to think outside the box and attempt to come up with solution for this apparent site acreage constraint. This is going to sound completely crazy but what if BP in using its practically limitless financial resources acquired 50 adjacent acres of that prime Northwest Indiana real estate and constructed the water treatment plant there. A minor land acquisition deal, what a radical idea.

Fortunately the BP refinery issue has been noticed by politicians such as Chicago's mayor Daly who has wrote a personal letter to the governor of Indiana asking the state to reconsider its stance and has threatened a law suit (the EPA however at this point has said it would honor Indiana's approval). After the on-going efforts over the last thirty years to clean up Lake Michigan, Daly believes that "the idea of dumping now into the lake again is really unacceptable." These sentiments are shared by the members of the U.S. Congress who passed a resolution expressing disapproval of the plan for the Indiana BP refinery. The resolution passed by 387 in favor to only 26 not in favor of the resolution. Whether such wide spread and bi-partisan political opposition will be enough to derail this project remains to be seen. More information should come available in the coming months.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey, my name is Sam Ratner and I am going to be starting as a freshman at BC in about a month. I'd love to contribute to SAM, if you'd have me. I am very interested and involved in politics, most recently working for Deval Patrick's gubernatorial campaign here in Massachusetts. I was an opinion writer and Senior Editor at The Milton Paper, my high school paper. Anyway, shoot me an e-mail at