Chicago 2/27 – While more than half of BP Whiting’s workforce remain on strike over safety issues and shifts that last up to 24 hours at the BP Whiting refinery, 3 major incidents have occurred at the plant this week, calling into question whether BP is putting profits over the safety of the community and it’s workers.
At least 8 major incidents have occurred at the plant since the refinery underwent it’s $4 billion expansion to focus its production on heavy tar sands crude from Alberta, Canada. Unlike light crude, tar sands oil is a far more difficult and dangerous oil to process, and as evidenced by the Kalamazoo River tar sands disaster, cannot be cleaned up from water.
Less than a year after the renovation project came online, BP Whiting spilled up to 1638 gallons of tar sands oil mixed with conventional crude into Lake Michigan. After the spill, seven additional major incidents have been reported including chemical releases, explosions, fires, and a major blast that was felt as far as Griffith, Indiana. Workers have informally reported that they felt rushed at the end of the construction project, and that safety measures have been short-cut.
The latest round of mishaps, 3 so far this week, are leading to community concern that these are symptoms of a systemic problem at the plant, and that the problems will only get worse.
On Monday a massive flare-up lit up the sky due to a “compressor problem.”
On Wednesday a leak was caused by a breakdown of a crude distillation unit that processes up to 110,000 barrels of oil. It remains unreported precisely what leaked, how much leaked and where it leaked to. The NWI Times reports,
Picketing USW workers said they heard evacuation sirens going off at the refinery at around 7:30 a.m. Wednesday. A fire truck drove to Pipestill 11C, where refinery firefighters laid down absorbent boom. Striking workers said the vapor that was likely leaking was dangerous and could ignite. Union members said a massive flare-up early Monday morning and the pipe still malfunction Wednesday morning showed that replacement workers could not safely operate the refinery in their absence.
On Thursday morning another massive flare-up soared hundreds of feet into the air. A video of the flare can be seen here.
It appears that abnormal flaring continues since the latest incident. A resident from the Southeast side of Chicago who was on his roof this morning (Friday) reported on social media, “I can see the orange glow from here…I would get out of Whiting…ASAP.” He stated that it was not the normal flaring from the plant.
“BP has a long history of putting profits before safety,” Debra Michaud of the environmental group Tar Sands Free Midwest stated. “They continue to fight payouts over their devastation in the Gulf after the Deepwater Horizon spill. How can workers who are forced to work for 12-24 hour shifts not make errors? Three major incidents in a week, and 8 in less than a year, should be warning enough that the refinery is putting the community and its workers in great peril.”