An initial assessment of a Lake Michigan oil spill shows between nine and 18 barrels of crude oil entered the lake following a malfunction at BP’s sprawling northwestern Indiana refinery, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesman said Wednesday.
Coast Guard spokesman Chief Petty Officer Alan Haraf said the estimate comes from the Coast Guard’s initial visual assessment Tuesday of the spill scene at BP’s Whiting refinery some 20 miles southeast of downtown Chicago.
One barrel of oil contains about 42 gallons, meaning the estimate indicates between about 378 and 756 gallons of crude oil were released into the lake.
Haraf said a more accurate figure likely will be released later this week on how much oil entered the lake, where crews for BP continued their cleanup work Wednesday.
The Environmental Protection Agency, which is supervising that work with the U.S. Coast Guard, was expected to release an update Wednesday afternoon on the cleanup. BP also planned to release an update on its crews’ work.
BP crews deployed absorbent booms after the spill and have been using vacuum trucks to suck up the corralled oil.
Eight members of a Coast Guard assessment team visited the shoreline again Wednesday morning to monitor the situation and determine what more needs to be done, Haraf said.
“They found minimal oiling of the shoreline, and what they’re going to do now is make a recommendation to the district commander about what the next steps will be to finish up any cleanup that might be needed,” Haraf said.
The spill area is confined to a cove area along the shoreline where BP discharges water from its refinery cooling operations into the lake, he said.
The spill affected about a half-mile of private shoreline that is owned by BP and is not accessible to the general public.
The EPA said the spill was not expected to pose any threat to municipal water supplies that draw on the lake’s water.
BP and EPA officials said Tuesday that the spill apparently occurred when a malfunction at the refinery allowed crude oil to enter a cooling system that draws lake water into the refinery to cool equipment and then discharges that water back into the lake.