Mother Nature Helps in BP Oil Spill

Tuesday, April 1, 2014 @ 08:04 PM gHale

BP got a bit of a break from Mother Nature as the leak of up to 1,638 gallons of crude oil into Lake Michigan from BP’s Whiting Refinery will likely not harm area wildlife.

“I’m not anticipating any significant, long-term impacts,” Philip Willink, senior research biologist at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, said Friday.

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Willink said he has not been at the scene of the spill due to it being on private BP property. His analysis comes from information released by BP and federal agencies as well as his knowledge of Lake Michigan aquatic life.

One helpful factor was the wind direction at the time of the spill in Whiting, IN. The wind blew the waves toward the shore, pushing the oil inland instead out into the lake, Willink said.

The timing was also a plus. Aquatic life gained protection by the lingering cold temperatures.

“When it is cold, the fish go deeper into the water where it is more stable,” Willink said. “Because we had such a harsh and brutal winter, the fish are still in deep water. We kind of got lucky that there were no fish to impact.”

Willink said the impact on waterfowl should be minimal as well, since the impact would have been if they ate contaminated fish.

The commotion of the cleanup efforts should be scaring the birds away from the area of the oil spill as well, Willink said.

The spill took place last Monday after a mechanical glitch sent cooling water tainted with crude oil into the lake.

Cleanup efforts have been under way since, with private contractors hired by BP working at the scene with Representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Coast Guard and Indiana Department of Environmental Management monitoring the process.

BP tripled its estimate of the amount of oil released into the lake, saying between 630 and 1,638 gallons of oil may have been lost.

The estimate is still preliminary, and weather conditions and safety concerns prevented an eight-member cleanup assessment team from getting a better handle on the extent of the discharge Friday.

BP contractors and members of the Coast Guard and the EPA were unable to complete scheduled surveys. High winds and waves made it too unsafe to follow the path of the discharge by boat in order to look for potentially submerged oil.

It also was too hazardous to take underwater samples closer to shore. However, the team was able to walk the shoreline northwest of the refinery, where they found no contamination.

BP contractors and a Coast Guard on-scene coordinator will remove oiled pebbles Saturday, and they will continue cleanup operations on the rocky shoreline at the southeast end of the cove between the refinery and the ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor steel mill Sunday.

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