Environmentalists ask Chicago mayor to investigate BP oil spill
By Tara Kadioglu Post-Tribune
March 25, 2015
Environmentalist claim heavy oil leak was tar sands
Environmental activists delivered a letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel Wednesday demanding a public report and investigation into at least 1,600 gallons of heavy crude oil spilled into Lake Michigan last year from BP's Whiting refinery.
BP confirms oil spill into Lake Michigan from Whiting refinery
The volunteer groups Tar Sands Free Midwest and Citizens Act to Protect Our Water argue in their letter that immediately after the spill, regional Environmental Protection Agency officials and the U.S. Coast Guard ily denied that the spill included heavy crude oil, which the groups say is particularly hazardous. They also claim that local government officials have done nothing to investigate the spill or to penalize BP since last year.
"Heavy petroleum oil" was found on the property according to a "U.S. Marine Safety Laboratory Oil Sample Analysis Report" dated April 7, 2014, supplied by Debra Michaud, a spokeswoman for Tar Sands Free Midwest, who said the materials were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Michaud said she is confident "heavy petroleum oil" refers to tar sands crude oil, a type of heavy crude oil.
"This really was a monster waiting to explode," said Michaud. "We've been waiting a year and haven't heard anything."
Shannon Breymaier, a spokeswoman for Emanuel, responded to the group's claims by saying the mayor asked BP in late March 2014 to provide the city with a report "on its efforts to control oil discharged from its Whiting Refinery on March 24 due to malfunctioning equipment."
BP sent Emanuel a letter in early May 2014 that "laid out the spill response steps it had taken in conjunction with the EPA and Coast Guard," she said, adding that while the mayor was "pleased to learn from the federal government that the discharged oil was contained and cleaned up, he has made it clear to BP that he expects the company to be vigilant in its work to prevent future spills."
BP President and Chairman John C. Mingé's letter to Emanuel referenced a formal cleanup team comprised of the Coast Guard, EPA and BP working together, with a Coast Guard conclusion on March 30, 2014, that "no visible oil" remained on the beachfront.
The EPA's last press release on the incident was on March 26, 2014, while the agency was still cleaning the area, according to the EPA's website and confirmed by its spokesman Francisco Arcaute. The release said the cleanup team "saw minimal oiling of the shoreline and recommended a small manual removal crew."
The EPA's last public comment on the incident was on April 4, 2014, the final entry of a log on the EPA website updating people on the daily cleanup activities. The entry said the EPA and Coast Guard "found no evidence of oil on the beach or in the water. The cleanup is complete," but added, "The EPA and the Coast Guard plan to perform a follow up inspection of the lake and shoreline this summer."
Arcaute did not respond to the question of whether this inspection occurred or to any of the activists' claims.
Jared Burkett, a spokesman for the Coast Guard, did not respond to a phone message left with his office Tuesday evening.
Scott Dean, BP's spokesman, confirmed what Mingé's letter said about oil reaching the lake through a temporary connection between the process water system and cooling water system, and that the connection was removed. He added that the company has "sealed off other connection points within the cooling water system."
"The investigation report did not identify the running of heavy crude (oil) as materially contributing to the incident," Dean said, adding that BP "fully cooperated" with the Coast Guard and that "local authorities confirmed the release had no impact on water supplies to surrounding communities or known impact to aquatic life or wildlife along the shoreline."
Dean also said an Aug. 15 joint survey by BP, the Coast Guard and EPA found that no oil was observed on "the rocks," and that "no further treatment" or assessment surveys were required.
"Unlike light crude, heavy tar sands oil sinks into the waterbed and cannot be fully eliminated once submerged, as evidenced by the Kalamazoo River disaster," Michaud said.
Costing $1.2 billion, the July 2010 Kalamazoo River tar sands spill was the costliest inland oil spill in U.S. history and required the river to be dredged after four years of unsuccessful cleanup attempts, she said.
Michelle BarlondSmith, a Michigan resident, said she and her husband – along with many other people she personally knew – became very sick after the Kalamazoo spill, when she used to lived about 200 feet from the river.
"The air was just a haze," she said, describing the smell being like a mix of "tar, asphalt, some gasoline, nail polish remover, and a little bit of bleach. It's a nasty, nasty odor. To this day I can't walk into a nail salon."
Josh Mogerman at the Natural Resources Defense Council, which was not involved in Wednesday's letter, said that tar sands oil, and heavy crude oil in general, can be particularly "stubborn" to remove and can pose serious health risks.
Michaud and the spokeswoman for Citizens Act to Protect Our Water, Pat Walter, said they are longtime volunteer environmental activists, but do not have professional training or experience in environmental science.
Contributing scientific expertise to the activists' efforts is Dr. Riki Ott, a marine toxicologist with a Ph.D. from the University of Washington School of Fisheries. Ott became an activist against oil spills after living firsthand through the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.
Ott clarified that "heavy petroleum oil" does not necessarily refer to tar sands. But her expertise and what she has read so far lead her to think that last year's BP Whiting spill likely included tar sands, she said.
"What we've learned from unconventional oil and gas disasters is this stuff sinks," she said, referring generally to heavy crude oil and specifically to tar sands. "And people become sick."
"In the North American oil market, there are three sources of heavy oil, California, Venezuela and Canada," Mogerman said, adding that oil from California generally doesn't leave the state, oil from Venezuela generally doesn't enter the Midwest, and that heavy oil coming into the Midwest is "almost exclusively from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada."
"In Canada, they produce two kinds of heavy oil, tar sands from Alberta and something called conventional crude oil," Mogerman said. "Of Canada's oil production, 2.3 million barrels a day are tar sands oil, versus 200,000 barrels a day for conventional heavy. The vast majority is tar sands and we really are at the center, with most of it coming to the upper Midwest."
Mogerman said a huge percentage of that tar sands oil is diluted bitumen, a "slightly refined, but very sludgy oil mixed with liquefied natural gas and very light petroleums just to get it thin enough to move through a pipeline."
Why don't we investigate every time Chicago dumps raw sewage in to the lake after heavy rains which occurs more often then BP spilling oil into the lake. Closing beaches in the summer with ecoli. Thats ok though.
He pointed to the pipeline burst in Kalamazoo showing how "some of the most toxic chemicals on the planet, things like benzene" are released when there is a spill from a tar sands refinery. The toxic material then sinks to the bottom and becomes difficult to remove, he said.
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