MARK KIESLING: There are no losers in this refinery agreement

2012-05-27T00:00:00Z MARK KIESLING: There are no losers in this refinery agreement nwitimes.com
May 27, 2012 12:00 am

The agreement BP reached to pay $400 million to upgrade its environmental controls at its Whiting Refinery is a winner for all sides.

Well, maybe not the company itself, which already is spending billions to update the refinery to process larger amounts of Canadian crude oil.

But BP Products North America President Steve Cornell offered some reassurance. He said the agreement will protect jobs, consumers and the environment.

It's one of those rare moments when environmental activists are on the same page with the oil refiners.

"This has been a job generator, not a job killer," said Steve Francis, chairman of the Sierra Club's Hoosier chapter. "This means lessened health impacts, respiratory problems and more construction jobs."

Many region people already have been put to work during what has been touted as the largest refinery expansion in history. Now it appears the latest agreement will create even more jobs.

There's no doubt BP is somewhat sensitive to environmental concerns after the disastrous oil rig spill two years ago in the Gulf of Mexico, which proved to not meet the gloom and doom predictions but still is going to have long-lasting effects.

At the heart of the current matter are emissions from processing oil into gasoline and other products.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which sided with the environmental groups, said the new equipment will eliminate more than 4,000 tons of pollutants each year.

This has to be welcome news to residents of Whiting and Hammond's Robertsdale neighborhood, which are adjacent to the refinery.

It has to be welcome news as well to refinery employees, who would be inhaling those 4,000 tons of sulfur and nitrogen oxides.

The company also has agreed to install monitoring devices for benzene, sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide.

It's not like BP entered into this on its own. Its hand was forced when several environmental groups took issue with permits the Indiana Department of Environmental Management granted in 2008 related to the then-proposed expansion project.

That's when the federal EPA stepped in and in 2009 rejected the operating permit, citing incorrect estimates of reductions in emissions.

Of course, this was all before the aforementioned Gulf of Mexico rig blowout, which dominated the news for weeks. The leaking pipe was capped after three months.

I just have to wonder how the company would have reacted if the local concerns over the Whiting Refinery had been expressed after that mess.

But we will never know.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at mark.kiesling@nwi.com or (219) 933-4170.

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