You are browsing the archive for Lake Michigan.

BP’s Lake Michigan Spill: Did Tar Sands Spill into the Great Lake?

11:16 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog 

Is it conventional crude or tar sands? That is the question. And it’s one with high stakes, to boot.

The BP Whiting refinery in Indiana spilled between 470 and 1228 gallons of oil (or is it tar sands?) into Lake Michigan on March 24 and four days later no one really knows for sure what type of crude it was. Most signs, however, point to tar sands.

The low-hanging fruit: the refinery was recently retooled as part of its “modernization project,” which will “provide Whiting with the capability of processing up to about 85% heavy crude, versus about 20% today.”

As Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Midwest Program Director Henry Henderson explained in a 2010 article, “heavy crude [is] code for tar sands.”

Albeit, “heavy crude” is produced in places other than Alberta’s tar sands, with Venezuela serving as the world’s other tar sands-producing epicenter. So, in theory, if it’s heavy crude that spilled into Lake Michigan, it could be from Venezuela.

But in practice, the facts on the ground tell a different story. As a January 2014 article in Bloomberg outlined, the combination of the U.S. hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom and the Canadian tar sands boom has brought U.S. imports of Venezuelan oil to 28-year lows.

Which brings us to the next question: how does the Canadian “heavy crude” get to BP’s Whiting refinery to begin with? Enter: Enbridge’s Line 6A pipeline.

Alberta Clipper/Line 6A

Dan Goldblatt, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, told DeSmogBlog he wasn’t sure what type of oil was spilled into Lake Michigan from the BP Whiting refinery  — which goes back to why it’s just being referred to as “oil” at this point by officials.

Goldblatt said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be looking into it as part of its investigation.

“Right now they’re more focused on recovery than on what type of oil it is,” Goldblatt said. “That’s a little further down the line.”

When asked about which pipeline feeds the BP Whiting refinery beast, Goldblatt told DeSmogBlog it’s Enbridge’s Line 6A pipeline.

Part of Enbridge’s “Lakehead System,” Line 6A stretches from Superior, Wis., to Enbridge’s Griffith/Hartsdale holding terminal in northwest Indiana.

“Lakehead System serves all the major refining centers in the Great Lakes … through its connection with the affiliated Canadian pipeline,” explains Enbridge’s Lakehead System website. “Total deliveries on the Lakehead System averaged 1.65 million [barrels per day] in 2009, meeting approximately … 70 percent of the refinery capacity in the greater Chicago area.”

Enbridge’s Line 67 (AKA Alberta Clipper) pipeline serves as the corridor between Alberta’s tar sands and Line 6A. Alberta Clipper currently awaits a capacity expansion permit from the U.S. State Department, which it applied for in November 2012 and needs because it’s a U.S.-Canada border-crossing line.

It was originally approved by President Barack Obama’s State Department in August 2009.

If approved, Line 67′s expansion would morph it from a 450,000 barrels per day pipeline to a 570,000 barrels per day pipeline. Its “full design capacity is 880,000 [barrels per day] of heavy crude oil,” (emphasis mine) according to theexpansion application it submitted to the State Department.

Hydrocarbon Technologies, which offers “market insight tools covering all segments of the global hydrocarbons market,” also points to the ties that bind Alberta’s tar sands, Enbridge’s Line 6A and the BP Whiting refinery.

“Once the modernisation project is complete, BP aims to increase the use of Canadian crude from oil sands via the Enbridge [Line 6A] pipeline, which runs from Alberta to Illinois,” explains Hydrocarbon Technologies.

In 2010, Line 6A spilled in a major way in Romeoville, Ill., with 6,050 barrels of oil escaping. An account in oil and gas industry trade publication PennEnergy explains the pipeline was carrying “heavy crude oil.”

“When the leak occurred, the Line 6A was transporting approximately 459,000 barrels per day of heavy crude oil,” the reporter detailed.

The “Dilbit Disaster” Connection

Line 6A is connected to the 2010 spill of over 843,000 gallons of tar sands into the Kalamazoo River, a Lake Michigan tributary. Literally.

Read the rest of this entry →

BP Doubles Initial Size Estimate of Lake Michigan Oil Spill

7:37 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Three days after spilling crude oil into Lake Michigan, BP has doubled its spill estimate to between 470 and 1228 gallons. The leak happened at its refinery in Whiting, Ind.

Although some of the oil has been cleaned up, it’s unclear how much is left in the lake, a drinking water source for about seven million Chicagoans.

Located just across the Illinois-Indiana state border, Whiting is home to the sixth largest refinery in the U.S. The refinery just went through a $4 billion “modernization project,” giving it “the capability of processing up to about 85 percent heavy crude.” That’s up from its original 20 percent, says BP’s website.

“Frigid temperatures caused some of the oil to harden into a waxy consistency that made it easier to collect,” BP spokesman Scott Dean told The Chicago Tribune. “Crews used vacuum trucks to suck up any liquid oil that washed ashore.”

The day after the spill, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), as well as U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) issued press releases in which they pledged to hold BP accountable for the spill. Durbin and Kirk also wrote a follow-up letter to BP, requesting a meeting with BP.

“Any unanticipated spill is cause for concern, but given the Whiting refinery’s recent expansion of its operations to double the amount of heavy oil sands being processed, this spill raises questions about the long-term safety and reliability ofBP’s new, expanded production at Whiting,” they wrote.

Chicago Mayor (and President Obama’s former Chief-of-Staff) Rahm Emanuel had similar things to say.

“I expect a full accounting to the public,” said Emanuel. “I want a report on what happened, how it happened, why did it happen, how much happened and how do you prevent it from ever happening again.”

Though BP claims it’s “recovered the vast majority of oil that had been visible on the surface,” questions remain.

For one, what type of oil was spilled? The refinery processes tar sands bitumen, which sinks in freshwater, a point alluded to in Kirk and Durbin’s letter to BP.

Video Shows Cleanup Crew Offshore

According to a March 25 EPA press release, the “U.S. Coast Guard has flown over the area and has not observed any visible sheen.”

EPA has also deployed a “Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Team,” which consists of employees of the Coast Guard, EPA and BP. The team says it “saw minimal oiling of the shoreline and recommended a small manual removal crew conduct maintenance along the shoreline” and posted some pictures of its cleanup efforts online.

The EPA’s account has become the widely accepted one in local and national media. But a video placed on The Chicago Tribune’s website calls some of it into question.

Read the rest of this entry →

Tar Sands’ Next Frontier: Shipments on the Great Lakes

2:38 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The Great Lakes, drinking water source for over 40 million North Americans, could be the next target on tar sands marketers’ bullseye according to a major new report out by the Chicago-based Alliance for the Great Lakes.

The 24-page report, “Oil and Water: Tar Sands Crude Shipping Meets the Great Lakes?“ unpacks a new looming threat to the Great Lakes in the form of barges transporting tar sands along the Great Lakes to targeted midwestern refinery markets. As the report suggests, it’s a threat made worse by an accompanying “Wild West”-like regulatory framework.

“The prospect of tar sands shipping on the Great Lakes gives rise to fundamental social and economic questions about whether moving crude oil by vessel across the world’s single largest surface freshwater system is a venture this region wants to embrace, despite the known risks,” the report says early on.

Calumet Specialty Products Partners LP is one of the major corporations hedging its bets on moving tar sands along the Great Lakes — and oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin — and may begin doing so as early as 2015.

“[I]ndustry observers and consultants speculate this crude could travel from Wisconsin across Lake Superior to Lake Michigan, and on to refineries in Whiting, Ind., Lemont, Ill., and possibly Detroit, Mich. near Lake Erie,” the report details. “Other potential destinations include Sarnia, Ontario on Lake Huron, or even an East Coast refinery.”

As a recent GasBuddy.com article explained, BP’s Whiting, Indiana refinery - capable of refining far more tar sands crude with its Modernization Project - will soon open for business.

“Sources say that BP’s modernization of the company’s 405,000-b/d Whiting, Ind., refinery is on schedule with all units now operating,” the article explained. “That includes a brand new 105,000-b/d coker that will eventually allow the plant to use about four times as much heavy sour Canadian crude compared with it had used previously.”

Market Glut a Market Opportunity for Great Lakes Shippers

Midwest tar sands pipelines abound, such as Enbridge’s Alberta Clipper/Line 67 pipeline, the original Transcanada Keystone pipeline and the forthcoming Enbridge Flanagan South pipeline, but with nearly two dozen tar sands refineries located in the region, pipelines serve as only one way to get the product to market.

“Even today, there is more tar sands crude being extracted from Alberta, Canada than current transportation channels can bring to market,” reads the report. “About 70 percent of these extracted tar sands are sent to refineries in the American Midwest and approximately 99 percent stay in the U.S.”

New Threat Looming?

Still early in the game, Calumet’s fast-paced maneuvering to ship 35,000 barrels of tar sands per day along Lake Superior has sparked opposition from close observers.

“[A]s tar sands crude spill cleanups have proved particularly problematic, a cleanup of a deep-water tar sands crude spill in the Great Lakes would present new and extraordinary challenges,” the report posits. ”With the amount of tar sands crude shipped on the Great Lakes by vessel poised to expand as early as 2015, the Great Lakes will soon face a new threat that poses a substantial risk to their future.”

As recent massive tar sands spills into Mayflower, Arksansas’ Lake Conway and Michigan’s Kalamazoo River have demonstrated, once tar sands spill into major waterways, comprehensive cleanup becomes virtually impossible.

It remains to be seen whether policymakers will learn from these past spills, or will just brush them aside in the race to send massive amounts of tar sands crude to midwest markets.

“We’re at a crossroads now, with companies starting to seek permits for new oil terminals,” Lyman Welch, Director of the Alliance for Great Lakes’ Water Quality Program and the report’s lead author said in a press release. “Before our region starts sinking money into shipping terminals for the Great Lakes, our task should be to ask ‘if’ rather than ‘when.’”