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.