The BP Whiting Refinery discharged about five times more total suspended solids of industrial waste into Lake Michigan than allowed after an operational issue Friday.
The refinery has been dealing with an “upset” at its wastewater treatment plant since Friday. BP notified the Indiana Department of Environmental Management that it discharged 8,932 pounds of total suspended solids on Monday; it is allowed to discharge only 5,694 pounds per day.
BP did another test on Tuesday, and discovered total suspended solids rose to 26,621 pounds, or about five times the limit.
Total suspended solids are particles of industrial waste in the water that can be trapped in a filter. BP’s wastewater treatment plant is supposed to filter out industrial byproducts before water used in oil refining operations is discharged back into Lake Michigan.
“The BP Whiting Refinery is responding to an upset at the refinery’s wastewater treatment facility,” spokesman Michael Abendhoff said. “BP has notified the Indiana Department of Environmental Management that this upset has resulted in exceedances of BP’s daily permit limit for total suspended solids. This is a wastewater issue; there has been no leak or discharge of any hydrocarbons into Lake Michigan.”
Abendhoff said the company is working to return the refinery to normal operations as soon as possible.
IDEM spokeswoman Courtney Arango said BP, which had been trying to upgrade its wastewater treatment plant so it would filter out more industrial waste, agreed to monitor the situation daily. The state agency sent its regional deputy director to investigate after learning of the sudden, overnight spike in discharged total suspended solids.
Arango said the discharge does not affect drinking water, people or marine life. It also should not be a cause for concern for any beach-goers visiting the neighboring Whihala Beach County Park.
“All Hammond and Whiting beaches are sampled seven days a week,” she said. “As of today, those beaches are open, and IDEM has received no reports of abnormalities — both in visual appearance and water quality.”
IDEM sent two inspectors to BP after getting notified about the discharge, and the regional director ramped up the investigation Wednesday afternoon by dispatching the regional deputy director to find out what’s going on and what BP’s game plan is for fixing it, Arango said.
“IDEM maintains regular communication with BP and is working with the organization to bring them back into compliance,” Arango said. “However, IDEM also maintains enforcement authority if compliance is not achieved in the near-term.”
The BP Whiting Refinery’s discharge permits, which also allow BP to discharge 1,036 pounds of ammonia per day into the lake, have been a controversial issue. Chicago politicians have objected that Indiana lets the refinery discharge so many industrial byproducts into the main source of drinking water in greater Chicagoland.
BP sent a containment boom boat out into Lake Michigan Friday and Saturday, but it was not apparent if it actually deployed any boom, which is used to stop spills.
Upsets at the BP Whiting Refinery often cause gas prices to rise since it is the largest refinery in the Midwest. But GasBuddy.com Senior Petroleum Analyst Greg Laskoski said it was too soon to say whether the ongoing issue would have any impact on gas prices, which averaged about $2.05 in the Gary metro this week.
“The recent report from the Department of Energy could offset some of that risk,” he said. “Midwest refinery output was 97.7 percent, which is a very good sign for consumers.”
To check on beach water quality, visit www.in.gov/idem/beaches/2345.htm.