WHITING | The Indiana Department of Environmental Management issued its final ruling on a permit application for BP's Whiting Refinery, requiring the company to cut its mercury releases into Lake Michigan by more than half.
Dan Goldblatt, spokesman for IDEM, said BP was allowed to release no more than 23 parts per trillion under the previous National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit modification issued in February 2012.
The company now will be required to release no more than 8.75 ppt. The federal Clean Water Act requires discharges not to exceed 1.3 ppt, but Goldblatt said provisions exist to allow a higher amount while still meeting requirements of the act.
The new permit goes into effect Nov. 1.
Scott Dean, spokesman for BP, said the company is "cautiously optimistic that our recent investment in new water treatment equipment will further reduce the Whiting Refinery mercury discharge, which is already less than one tablespoon per year.
"Having said that, the mercury limit in the revised permit has decreased by more than half and the refinery needs to gain experience operating the new equipment before we will know if the refinery can successfully and consistently meet this revised limit," Dean said. "Although we can’t guarantee this stricter permit limit is achievable in real-world operating conditions, we are committed to trying."
The permit also requires BP to continue working with the Purdue University Calumet's Water Institute on technologies to reduce mercury emissions into the lake. In the past, BP was required to investigate new technologies, but had no obligation to implement them.
The new permit requires BP to implement new technologies as they become available, Goldblatt said.
In 2007, BP funded a $5 million grant to the Water Institute and Argonne National Laboratories in an effort to research technologies that would help the company meet lower standards.
Studies issued in March 2012 by the research teams show technologies do exist, but many are not cost-effective or use too much energy for a large-scale operation.
Environmental group Save the Dunes is glad to see IDEM take the mercury issue seriously and is pleased the state agency considered all its requests and suggestions, Executive Director Nicole Barker said.
"We look forward to seeing the scientific research being conducted at Argonne translated into real-world technology to remove mercury from BP's wastewater," Barker said. "While the technology won't be implemented in their current permit, IDEM has made it clear that BP must report how they will implement mercury removal technology for the Whiting facility by March of 2015. We are glad to have scientists working diligently on this."
Save the Dunes hopes technology will improve enough to keep Lake Michigan clean, Barker said.
"We really need to fix this — after all, this stuff is discharging into Lake Michigan, the source of our drinking water," she said. "Lake Michigan deserves the cleanest discharges possible."