On March 24, the BP Whiting Refinery in Whiting, Ind. experienced a malfunction causing crude oil to spill into Lake Michigan. BP initially estimated that nine to 18 barrels — about 377 to 755 gallons — were spilled. Later, those estimates were doubled. Lake Michigan, along with the other Great Lakes, is a significant element of the state’s identity and play a large role in Michigan’s tourism industry. To protect the lakes, Gov. Rick Snyder and other state legislators should exhaust all options to implement stricter regulations when oil is processed or transferred near the Great Lakes.
Last Thursday, BP representatives revised their estimates for the amount spilled to between 630 and 1,638 gallons. One week after the spill, an assessment team — comprised of the Coast Guard, BP and the Environmental Protection Agency — reported there was no more oil visible on the shore or in the water. Phillip Willink, senior biologist at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, said Lake Michigan wildlife shouldn’t suffer any long-term harm. Despite the relatively small size of the spill, the failure of existing facilities and regulation to safeguard the lakes is concerning.
The Great Lakes are an incredibly important ecosystem for fish, agriculture, various animals and even humans. Currently, 37 million people live in the Great Lakes Basin, more than 26 million of whom rely on the lakes for drinking water. The people in the surrounding area rely on this important ecosystem. About 67,000 of the 201,000 square miles in the Basin are used for growing crops such as wheat, corn, soybeans, barley and oats. The area surrounding Lake Michigan contains the most farmland of all the Great Lakes and is a leading producer of fruits and vegetables.
With a history of oil spills, BP’s conduct merits heightened attention from both the state and federal government. Just last month, a ban on federal contracts with BP was lifted. The sanction was initially put in place in response to the disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This recent spill — along with previous oil spills in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico — raises questions about whether BP needs to be placed back under a federal ban. Considering BP’s questionable track record, it’s imperative that the company be transparent with the spill and the resulting cleanup.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called for full transparency from BP regarding the events leading up to the spill. U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin (D–Ill.) and Mark Kirk (R–Ill.) elaborated on Emanuel’s speech, calling for a full investigation to prevent the possibility of future oil spills in the Great Lakes. According to The Chicago Tribune, representatives from Michigan are also calling on BP to tighten regulations. Given that the Great Lakes are equally important — if not more so — to Michigan, it’s time for Snyder and Michigan senators to voice their concerns as well.