BP Whiting refinery disruption triggers unplanned flaring as NW Indiana residents report smell

ByMichelle Gallardo and ABC7 Chicago Digital Team WLS logo
Monday, June 26, 2023
Flaring at BP refinery prompts NW Ind. residents to report smell
Northwest Indiana residents have reported a sulfur smell as Porter County officials said there was unplanned flaring at a BP refinery in Whiting.

LAKE COUNTY, Ind. (WLS) -- For several hours on Sunday, residents all over northwest Indiana could not help but notice a pungent sulfur-like odor in the air.

Suspecting a gas leak, hundreds of calls flooded 911, leading police departments across the region, including Chesterton, Valparaiso, Portage and even Michigan City to issue statements asking people to leave emergency lines open as the source of the smell was investigated. As it turns out, it wasn't a natural gas leak, but a flaring of gases at Whiting's BP oil refinery.

"They contacted me yesterday with information that there had been a fire at the refinery. No one had been hurt. There was a malfunction in one of their units that was causing the smoke. I did see the smoke. This was probably between 11:30 and 12 p.m.," said Whiting Mayor Steve Spebar.

The unplanned flaring was, according to a statement issued by BP, weather-related. The operational disruption came just weeks after the company agreed to pay a $40 million fine as a direct result of Clean Air Act violations at the Whiting plant.

"That's a case that followed an intense investigation by the EPA of the Benzene, which is a very potent carcinogen which was getting out of the plant's wastewater treatment system," said Eric Schaeffer with the Environmental Integrity Project. "That's a sign BP wasn't paying attention."

Part of the settlement, said Whiting's mayor, will be invested in the communities surrounding the plant.

"There are committees that will be formed in three cities, Whiting, Hammond and East Chicago in the coming months, and some of the settlement money will be going to each entity for emission control," Spebar said.

So far, emergency management officials have said the foul smell does not pose a danger to residents. State environmental inspectors are expected to be on site on Monday to follow up on the situation.