BP reaches nearly $3M settlement over air pollution violations at Indiana oil refinery

ByABC7 Chicago Digital Team via WLS logo
Friday, September 16, 2022
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Oil titan BP has reached a nearly $3 million settlement over air pollution violations at its refinery in Whiting, Indiana.

HAMMOND, Ind. (WLS) -- Oil titan BP has reached a nearly $3 million settlement over air pollution violations at its refinery in Whiting, Indiana.

This stemmed from a 2019 lawsuit filed by environmentalists, alleging that emissions tests on BP's smokestacks showed high levels of microscopic soot-like particles that can trigger heart and asthma attacks.

That refinery sits on the southwestern Lake Michigan shoreline between Chicago and Hammond.

The settlement agreement between BP North America Inc. and Sierra Club was submitted Thursday to the U.S. District Court in Northern Indiana and now must be approved by the judge in the case. On April 14, 2021, Judge Philip P. Simon ruled that BP had clearly violated the limits for particulate matter emissions from the plant's boilers and was liable under the federal Clean Air Act for those violations, according to a release from the Sierra Club. Shortly after the judge's ruling, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management issued a modified air pollution control permit for BP Whiting plant.

The agreement is the second in the past year between advocacy groups and BP. Both cases involved releases of sooty "particulate matter," which is linked to asthma and other respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses.

Christina Audisho, spokeswoman for BP America Inc., said the company welcomed the agreement.

"BP's commitment to safe, compliant, and reliable operations at the Whiting refinery and across our global operations remains unwavering," Audisho said.

The 133-year-old refinery - the sixth largest in the U.S. - processes around 440,000 barrels of crude oil daily, producing a variety of liquid fuels and 7% of U.S.-made asphalt.

BP agreed in December 2019 to pay a $512,450 penalty and reduce soot from two large "catalytic crackers" that convert heavy oils into lighter oils and gases, said Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project, which sued on behalf of the Sierra Club.

The deal this week involved industrial boilers that provide steam to production units. As with the catalytic crackers, the boilers are subject to emission ceilings under the federal Clean Air Act. State records show violations dating as far back as 2015, said Schaeffer, who was a former enforcement director with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

U.S. District Judge Philip Simon ruled in April 2021 that three boilers exceeded particle emissions limits and ordered a trial on two others. The settlement Thursday would resolve all the environmentalists' claims if it receives court approval.

Under the agreement, BP would pay $1.75 million in civil penalties to a federal fund used for clean air monitoring and enforcement.

The company also would pay $1 million for projects intended to boost health and quality of life in the area. They would include $500,000 to the nonprofit Student Conservation Association for tree planting around the Whiting refinery and along nearby roads.

An additional $500,000 would go to local school districts for indoor air filtration devices in classrooms and other areas.

"It's a good penalty, we think, and the environmental projects they're funding are going to be helpful," Schaeffer said, adding that groups would continue pushing for reduced emissions and stepped-up monitoring.

"It's never over with a big refinery," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this post.