TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – A BP subsidiary will pay a $40 million penalty and install technology to control releases of benzene and other contaminants at its Whiting oil refinery on the Indiana shoreline of Lake Michigan, Biden administration officials said Wednesday.
The actions will settle a civil case against BP Products North America Inc. filed by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency, which described the penalty as the largest ever under the Clean Air Act for pollution from a structure. Additionally, the company will invest around $197 million in improvements.
“This settlement will result in the reduction of hundreds of tons of harmful air pollution a year, which means cleaner, healthier air for local communities,” said Larry Starfield, acting assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.
The 134-year-old refinery, located between Hammond, Indiana, and Chicago, is the biggest in the U.S. Midwest and sixth largest nationally. It processes about 440,000 barrels of crude oil daily, making a variety of liquid fuels and asphalt.
It has a record of pollution rule violations, reaching settlements in 2019 and 2022 over releases of sooty “particulate matter” linked to asthma and other respiratory diseases.
A new federal complaint accused the BP unit of breaking rules limiting benzene in refinery wastewater streams and emissions of hazardous and volatile air contaminants.
In addition to causing cancer, long-term inhalation of benzene is linked to blood disorders and reproductive problems for women, the EPA said. Volatile organic compounds help create smog-produce ozone, implicated in various lung ailments.
Under the agreement, BP will add equipment to strip benzene from wastewater streams flowing to its lakefront treatment plant.
The company also promised a $5 million project to reduce diesel emissions in nearby communities.
Additionally, it will step up pollution surveillance, placing one monitoring device on the refinery grounds, three at the fence line and 10 beyond.
The control measures “will greatly improve air quality and reduce health impacts on the overburdened communities that surround the facility," said Todd Kim, assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice Environment and Natural Resources Division.
The settlement, which also involves the state of Indiana, requires court approval after a public comment period.
“With this new agreement, we are committing to additional, robust steps — including significant capital investments — to monitor and mitigate wastewater emissions at Whiting Refinery,” BP spokesperson Christina Audisho said in a statement.
The improvements will be made “over the next several years,” Audisho said.
The Environmental Integrity Project, an advocacy group that previously sued BP over Whiting refinery emissions, praised the latest settlement "for holding BP accountable for its illegal emissions and for the tough new cleanup standards” it imposes.