Roughly nine to 18 barrels of crude oil spilled into Lake Michigan in Whiting, Ind., following a malfunction at oil giant BP refinery there on Monday. The refinery is located some 20 miles southeast of downtown Chicago.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, about 5,000 square feet was covered in the oil, though the spill remained mostly on the beach and not in the lake. The cold weather actually helped prevent further damage, as the majority of the lake is frozen over, keeping the leak from seeping into the water. Vacuum trucks were on hand to help in the cleanup.
The problem stemmed from a mechanical glitch on Monday afternoon, when an oil processing error caused a slew of crude to be injected into the separator at the water treatment plant and the mixture discharged into the lake through an outflow pipe. Had there been condition monitoring, the spill could have perhaps been prevented. Machine maintenance software is applied exactly for this reason - to steer clear of problems that could potentially cause major backlash in the environment and local officials.
Wednesday afternoon, the EPA announced that the cleanup was about finished. The cleanup crews removed about 5,200 gallons of an oil-water mixture as of Tuesday night, according to the source. It appeared there was no threat to people or wildlife, and the spill was not expected to endanger municipal water supplies that draw on the lake's water. No injuries were reported.
The Whiting Refinery, which spans about 1,400 acres along the lake's shoreline, is part of a $4.2 billion expansion and upgrade.
BP announced in August 2007 that it would find ways to keep the expanded refinery's discharges limited. This week Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel demanded a "full accounting" from BP.