BP, Indiana, Go The "Independent Study" Route

The US State of Indiana has produced a study by a State funded University which indicates BP did the right thing, as did State regulators, with regard to the State's granting of a proposed permit expansion for BP's Whiting Refinery. According to news coverage, by making report-recommended changes to State of Indiana regulations, the State's permitting process will be more transparent to the public; and, hence (we are left to infer) it will become more publicly acceptable for BP to be permitted to substantially increase effluent discharges of "Suspended Solids" and "Ammonia Nitrogen" to Lake MIchigan, while refining large amounts of incoming Alberta Crude.

We explain what is problematic with this line of reasoning below the fold.

Indiana's decision to allow BP to increase wastewater discharges into Lake Michigan from its Whiting refinery would not jeopardize wildlife or affect drinking water, according to an independent study released Thursday...

The study, commissioned by Gov. Mitch Daniels, was completed by Indiana University Professor James Barnes, who concluded that no state or federal regulations were violated in issuing BP the permit.

"The report confirms what BP has said all along -- that the permitting process complied with existing regulations and that the permit complies with the explicit requirements of both state and federal law," said Scott Dean, a BP spokesman...

...The increase in ammonia, he [Barnes] said, would be equivalent to a single drop into a pint of water. Barnes said the suspended solids -- or small particles left over after wastewater is treated -- would be the equivalent of 10 grains of sand in a pint glass.


Tragedy Of The Commons:- Several municipalities in multiple states rely on Lake Michigan, and downstream Great Lakes, for potable water. If every city and industry around the Great Lakes were similarly allowed to put in "one more drop in a pint" pretty soon the entire resource can be degraded, not just for Chicago, and not just for Indiana (which, interestingly, has only a minor reliance on Great Lakes for drinking water). Residents of other States realize this; and ,the "drop in the bucket" metaphor, therefore, "holds no water" (pun intended).

There's a hole in the bucket:- The long term trend could well be continued falling of average Great Lake levels - due to climate change. That may potentially alter effluent mixing characteristics. Will that mean that the effluent discharge lines will have to be extended by BP? We don't know; but, a legal and regulatory procedural analysis is insufficient to get at this and related issues (See "Tragedy Of The Commons, above).

Ecosystem Changes:- The pertinent water quality laws and regs, promulgated over 30 years ago in large part, were developed when the Lake Michigan ecosystem, particularly in the littoral (shore) zone, was substantially different than it is today. Plankton communities have changed dramatically throughout the lower Great Lakes in intervening years, in part due to the proliferation of invasives like Zebra (pictured) and Quagga mussels. See this somewhat dated overview reference for information on Great Lakes nutrient levels. For more information on the recent Cladophora blooms (pictured), see this reference. For superb and up to date overview that brings these issues together TreeHugger highly recommends this pdf file of a presentation by SeaGrant, an excerpt from which is presented below.

We have no idea whether plankton blooms are still primarily "phosphorus limited "in Lake Michigan, as had been previously established, or whether nitrogen may have become or soon will be the growth limiting factor for plankton, and especially for filamentous algal colonies recently found proliferating on southern Great Lakes shores. This is important because filamentous algal blooms, primarily Cladophora, can seriously degrade riparian values and wildlife have recently been harmed by such blooms. (See "Tragedy Of The Commons, above).

Suspended Solids Is A Blind Surrogate:- Suspended solids (SS) as an effluent characteristic covers a lot. Large amounts of SS can certainly affect water clarity and color around the point of effluent discharge.

Much of the "SS" is bacterial biomass. Some could be mineral in nature, and involve heavy metals from the Alberta crude. Enforcement agencies can't establish, and effluent dischargers can not be reasonably expected to monitor and report, every single item that might be associated with suspended solids. So the permitting process simplifies everything by limiting SS as a "surrogate." That is as it should be.

The presumption is that the future SS will be the same as today's effluent SS for BP. But will that be true with Alberta Crude and an expanded wastewater treatment works? Treatability and effluent characteristic studies can be performed and results made public before the presumption is made that the SS surrogate remains adequate. All Great Lakes States have a stake in that determination.

Still don't see it? Try the Beach Flip Dance.

See also: Chicago Gets BP To Reopen Lake Michigan Discharge Permit ...; and Illinois Ups The Pressure On BP - Looking At Indiana-Issued Air ... For perspective on the Alberta Crude "incoming" see this link: Murphy Oil Seeking Nearly 700% Wisconsin Refinery Capacity ... and Michigan Competes with Minnesota & Illinois For Alberta Crude ...

Via::IndyStar.com, "BP discharges into Lake Michigan wouldn't harm environment, Increase of wastewater into Lake Michigan wouldn't be harmful, report says" Image credit::Great Lakes Water Institute. "Cladophora found growing on zebra mussels"

Tags: BP | Great Lakes

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