To grasp the potential size of the region's subterranean oil slick one need
only recount a simple fact: Northern Lake County at one time was among the
nation's oil meccas - a vast network of refineries, pipelines and inland
shipping for oil.
Amoco Oil Co. runs one of its largest refineries in Whiting, and miles of
pipeline zigzag below the ground's surface while dozens of large storage tanks,
vestiges of refineries from earlier times, dot the landscape in East Chicago
"The area became the designated site for the nastiest, smelliest, heaviest
industries in Chicago," said Lance Trusty, a professor of local history at
Purdue University Calumet.
The technology during the 1920s when most of the area's refineries were
built included wooden-bottom and brick storage tanks, unwelded pipe fittings,
and wooden pumps and pipelines. The technology leaked and manual gauges led to
frequent tank overfills.
Environmental officials measuring the quantity of the area's subsurface oil,
Trusty said, "will find a soup (of petroleum products). You had this great
sandy soil back then that was great for dumping (liquid industrial wastes). ...
Gasoline, a waste product back then, was dumped into the Grand Calumet River."
And the highly contaminated Indiana Harbor Ship Canal, explained Archibald
McKinlay, another noted local historian, "From its beginning in 1888 was meant
to be an industrial canal. It never was a natural waterway, so what was abused?"
Said Trusty, "The attitude was different then. ... It's quite unreasonable
to hold someone to (today's) ecological standards. In the early 20th century
this was where the jobs were. It was the epitome of the old industrial
revolution and people were damn proud of it."
Added McKinlay, "Criticizing people for what happened back then is like
criticizing us for what we did to the Indians. If someone didn't build industry
in the Calumet Region, we wouldn't be here."
The number of refineries peaked during the 1920s when five plants churned
out about 130,000 barrels of petroleum daily. Today, all but Amoco have halted
refining operations, although some maintain storage tanks.
* STANDARD OIL CO. of Indiana was built in 1889 on 235 acres of sandy
marshland next to Lake Michigan. Plans included 80 crude stills, each with a
600-barrel capacity and a host of storage tanks.
The refinery and city of Whiting grew side-by-side. By 1891, the refinery
processed 17,000 barrels of crude oil daily, and in 1913 Standard won the first
gasoline patent about the same time it expanded its property to the canal where
its tankers hauled gasoline and oil for distribution throughout the Great Lakes
region. By then, it produced hundreds of products.
In 1960, American Oil Co. was born when refining, distribution, marketing
and research arms merged into a single company. In 1973, the company
incorporated the name Amoco into the names of its major subsidiaries.
Today the refinery, at 2815 Indianapolis Blvd., sits on 1,400 acres and
processes about 360,000 barrels of crude oil daily - roughly equal to the
estimated 400,000 barrels Amoco last month acknowledged has leaked beneath its
plant and nearby homes over 102 years.
* SINCLAIR OIL CO. refinery was completed in the winter of 1917 on the north
bank of the canal in East Chicago, not far from Standard. About a year later it
processed 10,000 crude oil barrels daily, with pipelines stretching from
Oklahoma and Kansas oil fields to the refinery.
Later, Atlantic Richfield Co. ran the 280-acre refinery until 1976 when a
group of eight farm cooperatives bought it. Called Energy Cooperative Inc., at
3500 Indianapolis, the group in 1981 mothballed much of the plant. In May 1984,
ECI filed for bankruptcy and later bulldozed the site.
In December 1989, the deed was signed over to a nonprofit city development
group at a tax scavenger sale. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
estimates there are 2.3 million gallons of sub-surface waste oil at the site,
and oil slicks appear on the adjoining canal whenever there are heavy rains.
An EPA official said the law exempts cities from cleanup liability in cases
where they acquire tax-indebted property.
* SHELL OIL CO.'S subsidiary, Roxana Petroleum Corp., was established in
1927 on Michigan Street in Hammond. A $15 million, 400-acre facility with a
large dock on the canal and pipelines that stretched to the plant from southern
oil fields, Roxana was said by the former East Chicago Magazine "to make East
Chicago the Midwest oil center in America."
The same 1926 issue of the magazine went on to say, "It is claimed that the
addition of the plant will not add to the industrial grime of the city on
account of the process used in refining." Roxana's estimated output was 25,000
barrels of fresh crude daily.
Later, Stauffer Chemical Co., now Rhone-Poulenc Basic Chemicals Co. of 2000
Michigan, bought 23 acres of the Shell property. Vista Chemical Co., located
next door, leases some four acres from Rhone-Poulenc for its operations.
Vista later bought 30 acres of the Shell property east of Rhone-Poulenc and
has torn down large storage tanks there. The property remains vacant. Sources
told The Times that Vista found oil on the groundwater table through core
Plant Manager Jim Pavao said, "There may have been testing of the 30 acres.
There's no question there's some contamination there." Pavao later said he
checked with company officials and was told Vista conducted no such testing.
* CITIES SERVICE OIL CO.'S subsidiary, Empire Oil Co., built a refinery in
1929. Crude oil traveled through a 12-inch pipeline from southwestern oil
fields to the 372-acre facility. The plant boasted a 15,000-barrel crude oil
output daily, much of it used to make gasoline, which by then was in great
demand along with the car.
Cities Service shut down Jan. 1, 1973 after financial losses. City planner
John Vasconi proposed converting 55 large storage tanks at the site into
high-rise apartment buildings by cutting portholes in the sides and installing
elevators. Vasconi's "Marina Towers" idea never got off the ground.
In 1980, a dramatic fire erupted in one of the abandoned tanks, which still
contained the highly explosive chemical naptha.
* SOCONY VACUUM CO. of Hammond was the result of several mergers. In 1930
its predecessor, Vacuum Oil Co., bought two companies that had merged two years
earlier, Bartles-Maguire Oil Co. and Wadhams Oil Co.
In 1931, Vacuum Oil and Standard Oil Co. of New York joined to become Socony
Vacuum, then the second-largest oil company in the nation.
Later, Socony became Mobil Oil Corp., with a bulk storage facility at 1527
Columbus Drive, Hammond, directly west of the Hammond-East Chicago border and
north of Columbus Drive, and a more than 20-acre refinery and tank yard at 3821
Indianapolis, East Chicago, between the west and south canal branches and Tod
Today, Mobil is tearing down many of its old tanks.