BP could keep pollution discharges at its northwest Indiana oil refinery at current levels even after the plant's $3.8 billion expansion by spending $40 million on new technology, a report suggests.
The city of Chicago commissioned Tetra Tech, a California-based engineering firm, to review the expansion project. Tetra Tech's report concluded that BP could apply technologies already in use at other facilities to upgrade its wastewater treatment plant and significantly cut the refinery's discharges into Lake Michigan.
Last month, amid mounting pressure, BP said the refinery would stay within the limits set in its previous permit. But BP officials warned the decision could jeopardize new construction because they didn't know of technology that would allow for expansion without increasing discharges into the lake.
BP spokeswoman Valerie Corr said the company got the report but declined to comment on the recommendations. She noted that the company is giving the Purdue Calumet Water Institute and Argonne National Laboratory a $5 million grant to research technology that could reduce pollution at the refinery.
In June, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management approved a new water permit that allows BP to increase ammonia discharges by 54 percent, to an average of 1,584 pounds a day, and suspended solid discharges by 35 percent, to 4,925 pounds a day.
Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, said BP's options should allow it to move ahead with the expansion.
He said the projected $30 million to $40 million cost of the wastewater upgrades would represent less than 1.5 percent of the refinery expansion and the highly profitable company could easily afford the upgrades.
"BP has the resources to do this right," Learner said.