Lake Michigan
Sleeping Bear Dunes, Lake Michigan.

In an effort to keep expanding the flow of oil, companies such as BP have been trying to extract oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, which is like trying to drink coffee after you’ve dumped it into sand. The process is so energy-intensive that there is talk of putting the world’s largest nuclear power plant on top of the tar sands in order to heat them up enough to use them, and lakes of toxic water have been created there.

And where will that goop go to get processed? BP has decided that it would like to process much of it on the southern shore of Lake Michigan, at its huge refinery, and they have been given a waiver by Indiana and the U.S. EPA to expand their pollution dumping, according to the Chicago Tribune:

The massive BP oil refinery in Whiting, Ind., is planning to dump significantly more ammonia and industrial sludge into Lake Michigan, running counter to years of efforts to clean up the Great Lakes.

Indiana regulators exempted BP from state environmental laws to clear the way for a $3.8 billion expansion that will allow the company to refine heavier Canadian crude oil. They justified the move in part by noting the project will create 80 new jobs.

Under BP’s new state water permit, the refinery — already one of the largest polluters along the Great Lakes — can release 54 percent more ammonia and 35 percent more sludge into Lake Michigan each day. Ammonia promotes algae blooms that can kill fish, while sludge is full of concentrated heavy metals.

What a way to create 80 jobs!

The story, which was the first indication that Chicago city officials were given about the situation, continues:

BP, which aggressively markets itself as an environmentally friendly corporation, is investing heavily in Canadian crude oil to reduce its reliance on sources in the Middle East. Extracting petroleum from the thick goop is a dirtier process than conventional methods. It also requires more energy that could significantly increase greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

Environmental groups and dozens of neighbors pleaded with BP to install more effective pollution controls at the nation’s fourth-largest refinery, which rises above the lakeshore about 3 miles southeast of the Illinois-Indiana border … The steady flow of oil, grease and chemicals into the lake from steel mills, refineries and factories — once largely unchecked — drew national attention that helped prompt Congress to pass the Clean Water Act during the early 1970s.

Now, congresspeople from the area are asking the EPA why they allowed this, including a Republican Congressman who said, “In my book, BP, which tries to market itself as an environmentally friendly company, now stands for ‘Bad Pollution.’”

Chicago city officials are exploring legal options and will meet with BP officials, who are gearing up a PR counter campaign. The Chicago Parks Commission will be soliciting petition signatures in the popular lakeshore region this weekend.

What I’m wondering is, why has BP been dumping 21 million gallons of waste in Lake Michigan even before this? Why is there a huge refinery near Chicago? The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago recently opened an exhibit about “The City of the Future,” and a team from the University of Illinois put together a presentation claiming that as we move deeper into the 21st century, fresh water will become more and more important. The Great Lakes will be one of our greatest resources, and currently hold 90 percent of North America’s surface fresh water and 20 percent of the entire planet’s.

Isn’t water more important than gasoline?