Indiana environmental department holds meeting to hear public concerns over Whiting BP oil refinery

Eric Horng Image
Friday, February 23, 2024
IDEM holds rescheduled environmental meeting on Whiting oil refinery
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management held a meeting Thursday to hear public concerns over a power outage at the Whiting BP oil refinery.

WHITING, Ind. (WLS) -- A rescheduled meeting about the BP refinery in Whiting was held Thursday night after it was abruptly canceled earlier this month.

This public meeting, which is a routine part of the permitting process, was not about BP's recent operational problems, but those issues were front and center.

Residents shared their thoughts on whether state environmental officials should renew a five-year air permit for the BP Whiting refinery.

"What we're experiencing isn't simply an environmental hazard. It is a socioeconomic wrecking," said Ashley Williams of Just Transition Northwest Indiana.

The meeting was hosted by the Indiana Department of Environmental management three weeks after a Feb. 1 power outage at the oil refinery led to an evacuation and increased flaring of smokestacks to burn off excess product.

"On that day, my daughter was on her way to soccer practice, struggling to breathe, struggling to complete her practice," said one resident.

Residents have complained of strong odors from that incident and from two separate tank leaks in January.

In a statement, BP said it's "committed to safe and compliant operations" and "also committed to being a good neighbor."

In a recent settlement with regulators, the company agreed to spend nearly $200 million on new emissions reduction equipment, as well as additional fence line air monitors. But some neighbors want more.

"We need indoor air filters because the air outside is coming into our homes," said resident Carolyn Marsh.

Two weeks ago there was a meeting scheduled at East Chicago Central High School, but it was abruptly canceled, prompting outrage. IDEM said the school district refused to open the doors because news cameras were there to cover the meeting. The district blamed IDEM for not hiring security.

IDEM said there were officers present tonight at the agency's request. The public comment period on the refinery's permit renewal ends Monday, and the state's decision could take months.

Full statement from BP spokesman

  • BP is committed to safe and compliant operations at the Whiting Refinery - and we're also committed to being a good neighbor in Northwest Indiana, where we have been a major investor, employer, fuel supplier and member of the community for more than 130 years.

  • An air permit is essential to the refinery's ability to continue operating, and renewing it will enable bp to continue to make investments in the site - and the region's economy - for years to come.

  • We recognize that the IDEM hearing is not a venue for broader concerns related to recent operational incidents at the refinery, but we are committed to hearing from the community, sincerely listening and working closely with IDEM and the community to address questions.