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 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.
Under the agreement, the company will add benzene stripping equipment and take other steps intended to reduce annually reductions of cancer-causing benzene along with hundreds of tons of other pollutants.
BP also will set up 10 stations to monitor air quality outside the refinery property.
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 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.