The U.S. Coast Guard has completed its investigation into the BP Whiting Refinery oil spill in Lake Michigan and forwarded its findings to a hearing officer in Washington, D.C.
The hearing officer will decide within 30 days whether BP will face any fines, penalties or corrective actions for the spill, Lt. Brian Dykens said. BP can appeal to that officer if it does not agree with the ruling.
An incident management officer conducted an investigation after the refinery discharged between 630 and 1,630 gallons of oil through the cooling system of its wastewater treatment plant March 24. The spill was confined by boom to a cove between the refinery and the ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor steelmaking complex in East Chicago.
The spill into Lake Michigan was small compared to past spills, such as the Deepwater Horizon spill, where more than 1.84 million gallons of oil were discharged for months into the Gulf of Mexico, Dykens said.
BP is investigating what caused the spill, spokesman Scott Dean said. Investigators are focusing on a now removed connection between a crude distillation unit and the cooling water system.
Crews spent 11 days cleaning up the lake and a section of shoreline at the 1,400-acre refinery, which sprawls across Whiting, Hammond and East Chicago. A team of representatives from the Coast Guard, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and BP determined the cleanup was complete April 4 after they saw no more sheen and found no more oil.
The Coast Guard and EPA plan to do a follow-up inspection of the lake and shoreline this summer to make sure no oil is left in the lake, which is a source of drinking water for millions of people throughout Northwest Indiana and the greater Chicago area.
"It follows on the pollution response," Dykens said. "Time allows nature to move around, and maybe wash oil ashore on the rocks or come up from the bottom. We will cover that whole area to see if we missed anything."
The Coast Guard also will determine whether BP violated the Clean Water Act.
"We treat all spills as potentially dangerous," Dykens said. "The lake is a source of drinking water, and we take it as a serious act."