An unknown amount of crude oil has been accidentally discharged into Lake Michigan just south east of Chicago, oil giant BP reports.
The company confirms that its Whiting, Indiana facility, situated just at the border of Illinois and Indiana and only a short distance from Chicago, had a malfunction late last night that caused the crude to flow into the lake.
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management said the leak was plugged but had continued for an unknown amount of time. BP has reported no details yet as to how much oil was leaked or what caused the malfunction.
During its TV newscast, CBS Channel 2 claimed that a source told them that up to 12 barrels, that is 500 gallons of crude, was lost. If CBS is correct, it is a relatively small spill.
BP spokesman Scott Dean told the media that they don’t know much as of yet. “A disruption in the refining process resulted in a crude oil discharge from the BP Whiting Refinery’s cooling water outfall into Lake Michigan at approximately 4:30 p.m. Monday.”
The extent of the damage on the lake, which supplies the drinking water for some 7 million people in the vicinity, may not be known for days. But the EPA reported early on Tuesday that about 5,000 square feet of the Lake had been covered in oil.
BP recovery workers, emergency response crews from the Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Coast Guard are on hand to assess the problem and begin the clean up.
Fortunately, the weather is aiding recovery workers to gather the oil from the waters as the frigid temperatures the area has been experiencing since Friday is causing some of the oil to harden to a wax-like substance. This makes recovery easier.
Winds have also been blowing south toward the lakeshore, keeping the oil from being pushed out into the open waters.
BP workers have also spread oil booms across its wastewater treatment area in the hope that the oil won’t spread too far into the lake.
In a joint letter, Senators Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) said they were pleased that the mop up effort was so quickly begun but were “concerned” over the incident nonetheless.
“We plan to hold BP accountable for this spill and will ask for a thorough report about the cause of this spill, the impact of the Whiting Refinery’s production increase on Lake Michigan, and what steps are being taken to prevent any future spill,” the Senators said.