Surprise, Surprise: BP Doubles Initial Estimate of Lake Michigan Oil Spill


The BP (NYSE:BP) oil spill on Lake Michigan that occurred Monday reportedly forced about 39 barrels, or 1,638 gallons of crude oil, into the lake, stemming from a malfunction in a Whiting, Indiana-based BP oil refinery, which lies about 20 miles southeast of downtown Chicago, according to ABC and the Chicago Tribune.

The number is double what the company reported earlier this week. Reuters on Tuesday reported that oil totaled just 10 barrels, or approximately 500 gallons, which would make the discharge relatively small. In comparison, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 leaked approximately 4.9 million barrels into the Gulf of Mexico.

Strong winds and cold weather helped cleanup crews capture and contain the oil, the Chicago Tribune reports. Winds blew most of the oil toward the shore of a shallow cove near the Arcelor Mittal steel mill, and the cool temperatures caused the oil to take on a waxy consistency that has made it easier to collect, according to an earlier report.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has since released a statement that said the spill is unlikely to have any long-term effects on Lake Michigan, which is currently an important source of drinking water for more than 7 million people in the Chicago area. The Chicago Tribune reports that the 68th Street water intake crib is just 8 miles northwest of the spill, although officials report that there have been no signs of oil drifting in that direction.

A spokesperson for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Dan Goldblatt, told ABC News that a tentative review of state records indicates that there have been no previous oil spills from the Whiting refinery. BP completed work on the refinery’s expansion in 2013, an upgrade that was designed to make the refinery a top processor of crude oil extracted from tar sand deposits in Canada.

A bipartisan group of politicians from both Indiana and Michigan, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk, are demanding more transparency and more aggressive action from BP, the Chicago Tribune reports.

“Any unanticipated spill is cause for concern, but given the Whiting refinery’s recent expansion of its operations to double the amount of heavy oil sands being processed, this spill raises questions about the long-term safety and reliability of BP’s new, expanded production at Whiting,” the group said in a letter to BP’s top U.S. official, John Minge, per the Chicago publication.

The senators also pointed out in the letter that it’s important for officials consider the type of oil that was spilled. The refinery processes tar sands bituman, which is known to sink in freshwater. “It’s in all of our best interests … to ensure that this greater processing capacity will do no harm to Lake Michigan,” Durbin, Kirk, and Emanuel said, according to the Chicago Tribune.

“I expect a full accounting to the public,” Emanuel said in his own statement. “I want a report on what happened, how it happened, why did it happen, how much happened and how do you prevent it from ever happening again,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times.