HAMMOND | Leaders from the BP Whiting Refinery and two environmental justice groups said Thursday they reached a deal to expand pollutant monitoring provisions beyond the requirements from a consent decree filed in federal court earlier this year.
The announcement was made on the same day the Indiana Department of Environmental Management held a public hearing on two draft air permits it could grant the facility.
BP plans to install and operate a special light beam system that will analyze levels of harmful pollutants around more than 1,000 feet of the property's fence line in real-time, according to a joint news release. The system is expected to be installed at the facility as early as 2014 and will run for at least two years.
In a consent decree filed in U.S. District Court in Hammond in May, BP agreed to pay more than $400 million to upgrade Whiting Refinery environmental controls and $8 million in civil fines to resolve violations of the Clean Air Act and other laws. The Environmental Protection Agency, IDEM, and several environmental groups signed on to the settlement.
"BP has long been committed to being a responsible member of the Northwest Indiana community and this agreement is an example of that commitment," said BP Whiting Refinery manager Nick Spencer.
The Hammond-based Calumet Project and El Cerrito, Calif.-based Global Community Monitor negotiated an expansion of the settlement with the company. They filed a separate appeal of the original BP permit issued by the state of Indiana on environmental justice grounds while supporting the appeals filed by other state and national environmental groups. Calumet Project President Steven Kozel Sr. said in the news release that the new program will help advance environmental justice causes in Northwest Indiana and show residents in neighborhoods important air quality information.
IDEM's public hearing on the BP permits are the latest step in what was a highly contentious project within the environmental community as the company sought permits to modernize its facility. BP is retrofitting its refinery to increase the amount of heavy Canadian crude it can process as it makes products such as gasoline and jet fuel. The project started in May 2008 after receiving an IDEM permit that allowed construction to begin.
Several environmental groups including Michigan City-based Save the Dunes challenged air permits issued to BP. Those permits eventually were rewritten and are under consideration by IDEM. The public comment period on the permits ends Monday.
At the public hearing at the Hammond Civic Center, speakers representing the company, Northwest Indiana's business community and environmenalists spoke in support of the more stringent permits. But resident Joe Hero said without the public outcry, the permits revisions wouldn't have happened.
"It (provides) the correct solution for big corporations to stand up and do the right thing," Hero said.
The ultraviolet light based open path monitoring system will be located on the refinery's west side at Schrage Avenue and on the southeast corner of the refinery near East Chicago's Marktown neighborhood. It will analyze concentrations at levels of 10 parts per billion of benzene, toluene, xylene, ozone, carbon disulfide and sulfur dioxide, the news release said. The data is expected to be updated daily and be available to the public on a BP-maintained website.
Other provisions in the consent decree require BP to install equipment at new and existing flares to reduce emissions by up to 90 percent, control emissions from its new coker, and establish a $500,000 fund to be available to local public agencies through a diesel retrofit program, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.