BP Whiting oil spill

Parker Wood / Coast GuardCleaning up after BP. Again.

Deepwater Horizawhatnow?

Less than a year after BP upgraded its Whiting refinery in northwestern Indiana to allow it to handle heavy Canadian tar-sands oil, causing petroleum coke to begin piling up in nearby Chicago, an industrial accident at the refinery has spewed some of that oil into Lake Michigan. The Chicago Tribune reports that it’s not known how long the refinery was leaking or how much oil was spilled. The leak was reported at 4:30 p.m. and plugged by 9 p.m., when an EPA official arrived at the scene. More from the Tribune:

Mike Beslow, the EPA’s emergency response coordinator, said there appeared to be no negative effects on Lake Michigan, the source of drinking water for 7 million people in Chicago and the suburbs. The 68th Street water intake crib is about eight miles northwest of the spill site, but there were no signs of oil drifting in that direction.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Initial reports suggest that strong winds pushed most of the oil toward a sandy cove on BP’s property between the refinery and an Arcelor Mittal steel mill. A flyover Tuesday afternoon revealed no visible oil beyond booms laid on the water to prevent the oil from spreading, Beslow said.

The spill came at an ominous time, catching the attention of both of Illinois’s U.S. senators. “[T]hree weeks ago, BP announced a plan to nearly double its processing of heavy crude oil at its BP Whiting Refinery,” Mark Kirk (R) and Dick Durbin (R) said in a joint statement on Tuesday.

“Given today’s events and BP’s decision to increase production, we are extremely concerned about the possibility of a future spill that may not be so easily contained. We plan to hold BP accountable for this spill and will ask for a thorough report about the cause of this spill, the impact of the Whiting Refinery’s production increase on Lake Michigan, and what steps are being taken to prevent any future spill,” the senators said.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The spill is the latest in a string of similar accidents that have coincided with the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez disaster.

A 34,000-gallon oil spill is being slowly cleaned up in North Dakota, where it escaped from a pipeline a week ago just 75 miles from a similar accident in a wheat field last year. Officials have discovered that 20,000 gallons of crude recently leaked out of a pipeline and into an Ohio nature preserve — which is double initial estimates. And several dozen dead and oiled birds have been discovered as crews work clean up as much as 168,000 gallons of oil that spewed into the Houston Ship Channel on Saturday following an oil barge crash. Meanwhile, Denver-based Zavanna LLC is facing fines after up to 1,400 gallons of oil spilled from one of its wells near the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers during recent North Dakota flooding.

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free.