MERRILLVILLE | Refining heavier, sulfur-rich crude will pose water challenges for BP Whiting, but some treatments could help abate them, a team researching wastewater technologies for BP in Whiting said Thursday.
The team from Purdue University Calumet's Water Institute and Argonne National Laboratory updated the public on the first phase of its research, completed this month.
The research has been split into two phases, the first of which included screening a list of newly tested or developed methods based on data collected from facilities in the southern end of Lake Michigan.
Among the technologies they say could be feasible, but require additional research and testing, include biological systems that remove both ammonia and suspended solids.
Installing equipment to pretreat water before it hits BP's treatment plant could lower anticipated increases in the concentration of suspended solids -- small, silty treatment byproducts -- when BP refines Canadian crude, said George Nnanna, Water Institute interim director.
Researchers recommended installing equipment upstream of the plant's discharge point, in part to allow treating a small amount of water per minute, rather than millions of gallons at the outfall. It also would improve the filtering effectiveness at the wastewater treatment plant, researchers said.
BP spokesman Scott Dean called the discussion of pretreatment "an excellent idea," and that the refinery already is considering some of the methods addressed, including brine treatment to control suspended solids.
The team also compared data from 433 facilities all discharging directly or indirectly to the southern end of Lake Michigan. They focused on 80 sites that released target chemicals including ammonia, suspended solids, nitrogen, vanadium and mercury.
The analysis supports a monthslong Times project that found that while substantial, BP's discharges were not the largest to the lake.
Analyzing facility permits and state and federal environmental records, the team also found that as much, if not more, contamination to the lake stems from air pollution falling into water.
The team submitted a draft of its first phase to a panel of external experts last month, and plans to incorporate its input in the final report presented to BP at the end of the month.
ABOUT THE PROJECT
The project is focusing on emerging treatment technologies to best remove ammonia, suspended solids and metals, including mercury, from wastewater into Lake Michigan. The first phase, discussed Thursday, addresses ammonia and suspended solids, two contaminants BP had requested to increase as part of its $3.8 billion refinery expansion. BP gave $5 million to the project last fall. The company has said it is relying on this and other research, after it pledged not to increase dumping, but admitted it did not know how to do it.