Whiting Refinery

BP's Whiting Refinery, as seen from Lakefront Park

WHITING — The Hoosier Sierra Club said it is suing the BP Refinery because it claims federal and state regulators won’t stop its dangerous air pollution across Northwest Indiana.

The Indianapolis chapter of the San Francisco-based environmental organization is asking a federal judge to remedy what it alleges is years of BP’s violations of state and federal regulations under the Clean Air Act.

The Sierra Club seeks the installation of air pollution controls, fines and donations to beneficial environmental projects to offset any harm the refinery has caused the state.

The Sierra Club said it's filing the litigation because neither the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency nor the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) have taken enforcement or regulatory actions “sufficient to prevent the refinery’s violations."

IDEM declined comment on the Sierra suit against BP.

This suit comes seven years after the Sierra Club, Save the Dunes and other environmental groups challenged permits IDEM issued to BP in 2008 for its expansion.

The citizen suit won a $400-million settlement with BP to put in place pollution control and mitigation and pay $8 million in civil fines. The refinery then proceeded with a $4.2-billion expansion.

BP spokesman Michael Abendhoff said Tuesday, “BP takes seriously our commitment to safe and reliable operations at the Whiting refinery and across our global operations. We are reviewing this complaint and will be prepared to vigorously defend our operation.”

The suit alleges five large steam boilers in the refinery, which help fuel the plant’s operations, have been emitting particulate matter, a toxic mixture of organic material, metal and ash that can cause heart and lung disease, as well as general environmental damage.

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It alleges the particulate matter is so small — 10 microns that can only be seen with electron microscopes —it penetrates deeply into lungs and enters the bloodstream. It is linked to asthma, heart attacks and other health risks.

The suit alleges state-mandated air tests at the refinery have detected illegally high particulate matter emissions on dozens of occasions between 2015 and the present.

The suit states “BP has repeatedly violated, is violating and will continue to violate the federal Clean Air Act, the State Implementation Plan and the Whiting Refinery Clean Air Act.”

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It alleges the violations have taken place over a four year period and should trigger civil penalties for the violations ranging from $37,500 per day to $99,681 per day.

Eric V. Schaeffer, an attorney for the Sierra Club, said it notified the state and federal environmental agencies in February of the violations and its intent to sue if the government failed to act on the air violations.

The U.S. District Court clerk’s office have assigned the new suit to Chief Judge Theresa L. Springmann and Magistrate Judge John E. Martin.

BP has 60 days to respond to the suit. No hearing date has been set.

The Sierra Club has 10,300 members in Indiana, including many who live in Northwest Indiana near the refinery.

The refinery, first built in 1889, covers 1,400 acres. It is the largest BP refinery in the world. It processes 430,000 barrels of crude petroleum into gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, accounting for 23% of BP’s global refining capacity.

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