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BP to pay $400 million to reduce pollution at Whiting refinery

(INGAR 102) Traffic moves along Indianapolis Blvd past BP Whiting facility with flare stack operatiTuesday afternoJune 2 2009. Jeffrey D.

(INGAR 102) Traffic moves along Indianapolis Blvd past the BP Whiting facility with a flare stack in operation Tuesday afternoon June 2, 2009. Jeffrey D. Nicholls/Post-Tribune

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Updated: July 3, 2012 9:01AM

BP has agreed to spend about $420 million on fines and upgrades at its refinery in Whiting, Ind. to reduce air pollution by about 4,000 tons per year.

The fixes are supposed to reduce greenhouse gases and pollutants that can cause cancer and respiratory diseases such as asthma.

Local and national environmental groups praised the settlement, which was filed Wednesday in federal court in Hammond, for ground-breaking requirements that will also likely affect other refineries across the country in the future.

“This is a landmark settlement that is going to set the bar for future expansions,” said Ann Alexander of the National Resource Defense Council.

A representative with BP could not be reached for comment.

The settlement includes $400 million to be spent reducing the amount of pollution that escapes through the flares at the Whiting refinery.

BP has agreed to install compressors that will capture most of the gases that would have otherwise gone to the flares. BP can then use those gases to power equipment at the refinery, helping to save money. BP must install other equipment that will ensure the flares burn at least 98 percent of any other gases. The Whiting refinery will have 10 flares overall once its expansion project is done. Eric Schaeffer of the Environmental Integrity Project said most of the will have the new controls.

“Today’s settlement will protect the residents of northwestern Indiana from harmful air pollution by requiring state-of-the-art pollution controls,” Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said in a release.

Another part of the agreement calls for BP to spend $2 million to install four monitors along its perimeter to check the air for pollutants such as benzene, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide and other toxic chemicals. Alexander said that although monitoring has been included in other settlements, this one is groundbreaking because BP has agreed to post the results on a public website once a week for at least two years, although it has said it intends on continuing to do so for longer.

“BP’s neighbors have a right to know what BP is putting into the air to breathe,” said Andrew Armstrong, a staff attorney with the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

Alexander, who called the agreement a “huge development” for Northwest Indiana, said BP must release the information so that the public can readily understand it.

Other steps BP must take include fixing leaking pipes, reducing emissions from the refinery’s boilers and heaters on a regular basis and putting controls on its coker processing to reduce emissions. Schaeffer said that most of the day-to-day controls must be in place within a year and that the flare controls will be rolled out through 2017.

The company will also research all possible technologies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, such as boilers heated by solar power, and then spend $9.5 million on implementing some of that technology. BP must also spend $500,000 to help local municipalities retrofit their diesel vehicles to make them more green.

Finally, the company will pay $8 million in fines — $7.2 million to the U.S. government and $800,000 to Indiana — for violating its previous air permits.

Steve Francis, a local resident and chairman of the Hoosier Sierra Club, and Nicole Barker, executive director of Save the Dunes, praised the settlement for not only protecting the environment and public health but also helping the economy. Francis said jobs will be created to install, maintain and monitor the pollution controls.

“We view this as a triple win,” Francis said.

Barker said that Save the Dunes is aware of the jobs BP has created but wanted to make sure that they were balanced with protecting public health and the environment.

The settlement comes after the various groups filed a challenge in 2008 to BP’s proposed air permit. The company originally said that pollution emissions would be reduced under the new permit, but Alexander said that the various environmental groups discovered BP had miscalculated its numbers in the more than 3,000-page permit application.

The EPA agreed with the challenges in 2009, she said, and BP soon afterward asked to work with all the groups to reach a settlement.

Alexander said the EPA uses previous permits to set standards for new permits, so having such stringent limits on pollutants for BP’s air permit means that other refineries should have to follow suit when they seek new permits. Schaeffer credited BP for stepping up and agreeing to the new technologies and limits.

“This settlement really does mean something for other communities as well,” he said.

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