Pipelines carrying the dirtiest form of oil are running through our neighborhoods in Northwest Indiana.
The Enbridge Pipeline system transports heavy crude oil from Canada’s Athabasca tar sands to oil refineries in the American Midwest and Ontario. The Canadian Tar Sands is the largest and most destructive human project in the history of the world.
The Canadian tar sands are connected to the Northwest Indiana Region through a system of pipelines. The Alberta Clipper pipeline (called the “Keystone XL clone”) brings tar sands oil to Enbridge Line 6, which runs south through Wisconsin and Illinois to the Enbridge terminal in Griffith, Indiana.
Another Enbridge terminal in neighboring Schererville receives oil from the Bakkan oil fields in North Dakota, where the infamous Dakota Access Pipeline begins. From Griffith and Schererville, this oil flows to the BP refinery in Whiting, Indiana. After refining, the oil continues on through Northwest Indiana and southern Michigan. Line 6 has the capacity to carry almost 30 million gallons of oil a day. The oil from the tar sands is the dirtiest oil there is. This is the oil that is running through our neighborhoods and nature preserves in Northwest Indiana.
Line 6 has already spilled with disastrous consequences.
In July 2010, Line 6 burst and flowed into the Kalamazoo River–just a couple of hours’ drive from Lake County, Indiana. A six-foot break in the pipeline caused almost a million gallons of heavy crude oil to spill into the river, contaminating the community’s drinking water as well as poisoning wildlife. It was the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history to date. This is the same pipeline that is running through our neighborhoods in Northwest Indiana.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified 22 violations by Enbridge relating to the spill. The spill is now referred to as “the Dilbit Disaster”, because the kind of oil spilled was diluted bitumen or “dilbit” from Canada’s tar sands. Dilbit is the dirtiest form of oil there is. Unlike other forms of crude oil, dilbit sinks in water, which makes it that much harder to clean up. In fact, according to some ecologists, once it gets into the surface water system, we can never get it all out.
Following the spill, the Calhoun County Health Department evacuated 30 to 50 households and advised twice as many to not drink their water. Thirty-five miles of the Kalamazoo River were closed for clean-up for two years, until June 2012. But, in March 2013, the river still was not clean, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had to order Enbridge to return to dredge portions of the river to remove submerged oil and oil-contaminated sediment. The cleanup cost nearly $1 billion.
BP in Whiting is a major source of water and air pollution.
Oil which comes into the Region on Line 6 through the Enbridge facility passes through the towns of Griffith, Schererville, Highland, Hammond, East Chicago, and Whiting, on its way to the BP refinery. The BP Whiting refinery is one of the largest refineries in the US and has a capacity to process almost a half million barrels of crude oil a day.
BP is also one of the largest sources of industrial pollution into Lake Michigan. In March 2014, BP spilled hundreds of gallons of oil into Lake Michigan. More recently, in July 2016, BP discharged tons of industrial waste into the lake. This was only the latest in a series of incidents in which BP discharged pollution into the Lake far in excess of the amounts permitted by the EPA.
BP is also a major source of air pollution, including sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, which damages people’s health as well as the environment. The pollution from BP is exacerbated by the fact that processing of tar sands from Canada is dirtier than other forms of oil. The EPA has long been lax in enforcing its own rules and imposing penalties on BP for violations. The impacts of this pollution tends to fall disproportionately on poor communities and communities of color.
The BP Whiting refinery is also one of the Region’s biggest sources of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, emitting millions of tons of CO2 every year. It takes a much more energy to produce tar sands oil than conventional oil, so even more greenhouse gases are produced in the process. The bottom line is that, if we continue to burn tar sands oil the way we are, climate change will become irreversible.
The NWI Region can be a leader in the Renewable Energy Revolution.
We no longer need to choose between jobs on the one hand and our health, our communities, and our planet on the other. It is time to transition from fossil fuels to a renewable energy economy, and Northwest Indiana should be at the forefront of that transition.