BP working to halt excessive waste flow into Lake Michigan from refinery

This Sept. 26, 2012 aerial photo BP's refinery in Whiting, Ind. BP said Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2015 it has restarted a portion of the oil refinery whose unplanned shutdown for repairs caused gasoline prices in the region to spike earlier this month. (Jon L. Hendricks/The Times via AP)
The BP refinery in Whiting, Ind., on the shores of Lake Michigan.  (Jon L. Hendricks/The Times via AP)

WHITING, Ind. — An operational issue has caused BP’s large northern Indiana refinery near the southern shore of Lake Michigan to discharge about five times more industrial waste into the lake than allowed.

The refinery has been dealing with the problem at its wastewater treatment plant since Friday, The Times of Northwest Indiana reported. Problems at the BP Whiting Refinery often cause gas prices to increase because it’s the largest refinery in the Midwest.

The company told the Indiana Department of Environmental Management that it discharged more than 8,900 pounds of total suspended solids Monday. It’s allowed to discharge nearly 5,700 pounds per day.

BP discovered in another test Tuesday that the total suspended solids discharged rose to more than 26,600 pounds.

BP spokesman Michael Abendhoff said the discharge involved wastewater solids, not hydrocarbons. He says the company is working to return the refinery to normal operations as soon as possible.

IDEM spokeswoman Courtney Arango said the discharge doesn’t affect people, drinking water or marine life and that it shouldn’t be a concern for visitors of the nearby Whihala Beach County Park.

“All Hammond and Whiting beaches are sampled seven days a week,” she said. “As of today, those beaches are open, and IDEM has received no reports of abnormalities — both in visual appearance and water quality.”

The department sent two inspectors to BP after being notified about the discharge. Arango said the regional director has also been trying to find out what is going on and how BP plans to solve the issue.

“IDEM maintains regular communication with BP and is working with the organization to bring them back into compliance,” Arango said. “However, IDEM also maintains enforcement authority if compliance is not achieved in the near-term.”

It’s too soon to say whether the ongoing issue would have any impact on gas prices, according to Greg Laskoski, Senior Petroleum Analyst at GasBuddy.com.