On March 24, the BP refinery in Whiting spilled upwards of 1,000 gallons of oil into Lake Michigan. Though we don’t know for sure, it was undoubtedly tar sands crude. The company claims to have cleaned up the spill, though they have never admitted what was really spilled, or how much of it escaped their recovery efforts. The problem is, the heavy tar sands crude sinks into the lake, which is Chicago’s drinking water and part of the world’s largest freshwater reserve.
The BP plant in Whiting (formerly Amoco) is the third-largest refinery in the United States. It turns some 413,000 barrels per day of crude oil into gasoline, diesel, aviation fuel, propane, and 10% of the asphalt used in the US, according to Hydrocarbons Technology website. In January BP completed an upgrade giving them four times more capacity to process tar sands oil, which they now plan to use for upwards of 80% of their production.
Chicago, it turns out, is tar sands central, essentially because of the Enbridge corporation. Pipeline 6A hooks up to pipeline 67 in Canada, the so-called Alberta Clipper. It brings diluted bitumin – ie, thick tar sands crude mixed with liquifying chemicals – to the Chicagoland area. 6A dumped over 200,000 gallons in Romeoville, at the heart of the Southwest Corridor where tens of thousands of people live and work in the warehouse districts. As for pipeline 6B, it’s the one that spilled over a million gallons of heavy tar sands crude into the Kalamazoo River four years ago – a full-fledged environmental disaster. BP, Citgo and Exxon-Mobil are all processing tar sands oil brought by Enbridge, and producing toxic petcoke in the bargain.
On May 17, 2014, around two hundred protesters gathered in Marktown Park, right in front of the BP refinery. We came to protest the petcoke piles along with past and future oil spills from Enbridge pipelines, railroad cisterns, and BP itself. We came to protest the insane and unbearable future that tar sands oil production offers to ourselves and to coming generations. We came to get active and to meet some of the many dedicated activists working on these issues, in the Chicago area and beyond.
The map at the bottom of the page shows the location of the BP protest and some other sites around the sprawling Arcelor-Mittal steel plant located on the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal, which is one of the most polluted waterways in the United States. The gallery of photos recalls a beautiful day and some wonderful people in a frightening place on planet Earth.