Lakeshore Report

Lake Co. Surveyor Meets with BP About Oil Spill

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By: Hilary Powell

May  23, 2014 — For a man whose job centers on water maintenance Lake County Surveyor Bill Emerson, Jr. has spent the past 30 days focused on oil.

A March 24th oil spill at BP’s Whiting, Ind. refinery sent federal officials from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Lake Michigan shoreline for clean-up efforts.

“There were two different types of sour crude that were mixed and somehow ended up in the cooling system that went into the water treatment plant and eventually made its way into the lake,” Emerson says.

Nearly a month ago today, a spill at the refinery sent an unknown volume of crude oil into Lake Michigan.

Emerson sent a letter seeking answers from the energy company. He is starting to get them now about what kind of were chemicals leaked and BP’s efforts to stop future spills.

Fifteen to 39 barrels of oil spilled into the lakefront, BP spokesperson Scott Dean says.

Though federal EPA officials declared the “cleanup is complete” on April 4th Emerson — an engineer and lawyer — wants more accountability on the local level.

“The spill happened so close to the Hammond intake for the Hammond Water Works,” he says. “You know, heaven forbid, and there’s no sign that this happened, but if that water were to make its way to that intake, it would become my problem very quickly.

That is because the spill was two miles from the Hammond Water Works intake, which supplies drinking water for more than 300 thousand residents.

“That is not very far when you are talking about right on the lake there,” Emerson says.

The surveyor says he met with BP officials in late April. The results of that meeting were papers.
“They provided these two material data safety sheets, showing the types of oil that spilled into the lake,” Emerson says.

The material safety data sheets, or, safety data sheets, are OSHA required for hazardous chemicals and can be requested from BP by the public.

Emerson says the documents provide the answer to a lingering question since the spill: the physical and chemical properties of the crude oil.

Three types of ingredients were present: benzene, hydrogen sulfide and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

“These chemicals volatilize into the air, uh, my understanding from the cleanup activities, is that the levels that were released from these chemicals may not have long-term effects on the ecosystem, says George Nnanna, director of the Purdue Calumet Water Institute.

He says he worked with BP during an expansion in 2007 and was contacted by the company after the spill.
Nnanna says he is awaiting the results of an EPA report which he hopes will show concentration levels for each chemical involved in the spill.

“What is not clear yet, or at least I have not seen from the cleanup exercise, is the level of the concentration of these three chemicals — benzene and hydrogen sulfide — that was released into the atmosphere,” he says. “Not only water, air and soil. So there should be air sample test, a water sample test, as well as a soil sample test.”

Both BP and Indiana Department of Environmental Management officials say there is no known deadline for the EPA final report.

“Since the spill occurred in an international shipping waters, the feds took the lead,” EPA spokesperson Dan Goldblatt says.

Though clean-up efforts are over, Emerson says safety measures should be ongoing.

“One of the things I’m really concerned with is making sure this doesn’t happen again,” he says.
“Preserving the Lake Michigan is not just beneficial to industry, but as a community, you know, preserving the health of the ecosystem is very important,” Nnanna says. “I’m hoping that adequate measures will be put in place to prevent these kinds of accidents in the future.”

Emerson says he expects to meet with BP officials again by next month.

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