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Explanation of Cause, Impact on Lake Michigan and Prevention Efforts Needed

WASHINGTON, DC - U.S. Senators Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) asked for a meeting with BP after oil from BP’s Whiting Refinery in Indiana spilled into Lake Michigan earlier this week. Specifically, Senators Kirk and Durbin asked for a report about the cause of the spill, an analysis of the impact of the Whiting Refinery’s production increase on Lake Michigan and information on what is being done to prevent future spills.

“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.  It is in all of our best interests, including Lake Michigan and the communities and industries that rely on [the Lake’s resources], to ensure that this greater processing capacity will do no harm to Lake Michigan,” wrote Senators Durbin and Kirk.  “We urge you to explore every avenue to expeditiously recover any spilled oil, remediate the damage where possible, and minimize future threats the Whiting Refinery poses to this irreplaceable resource.”

Text of today’s letter is below:

March 27, 2014

Mr. John Minge

CEO, BP America Inc.

501 Westlake Park Blvd

Houston, TX 77079-2604

Dear Mr. Minge:

We are deeply concerned about this week’s oil spill at the BP Whiting Refinery on the shore of Lake Michigan.  We would appreciate meeting with you to discuss BP’s plan to manage the potential public health and environmental threats to surrounding communities related to the contamination of Lake Michigan.

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.  It is in all of our best interests, including Lake Michigan and the communities and industries that rely on it, to ensure that this greater processing capacity will do no harm to Lake Michigan.

While the cause of the spill has been determined and efforts are underway to clean up the oil, we remain troubled by certain aspects of the incident:

  • Four days after the spill, BP has only now given estimates on the amount of oil that was spilled.  However, more detail about its chemical composition still needs to be provided.  This information is critical for authorities as they attempt to asses any potential harmful effects caused by the spill.  When does BP expect to release this data?
  • Lake Michigan provides drinking water to more than seven million people and several Illinois towns intake their water from locations that are near the spilled oil.  What is BP doing to ensure the drinking water for these cities has not been contaminated?
  • Current clean-up efforts have focused on oil sitting on the surface of the Lake.  What has been done to determine how much oil might have settled on the floor of Lake Michigan?  What assurance is BP prepared to give that all the oil is removed from the Lake?

Lake Michigan is a critically important ecosystem, not just for Illinois, but for the entire Great Lakes region.  Protecting the Lake must be a priority.  We urge you to explore every avenue to expeditiously recover any spilled oil, remediate the damage where possible, and minimize future threats the Whiting Refinery poses to this irreplaceable resource.   We look forward to meeting with you to discuss these concerns.

Sincerely,

Richard J. Durbin

United States Senator

Mark Kirk

United States Senator

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