Monday, April 28, 2008

Murphy Oil Expansion At Superior Continuing To Raise Questions

Minnesotans next door to the proposed seven-fold expansion at the Murphy Oil refinery in Superior are raising broad questions about the wisdom of the massive project.

And even company officials concede that the expansion will put more greenhouse gases in the air - - the same issue that is already plaguing the destructive extraction of the tar sand oil ticketed for Great Lakes refineries from beneath Canadian bogs and forests.

I have posted numerous commentaries and sources on this blog about the Murphy Oil project, emphasizing the potential loss in Wisconsin of up to 500 acres of wetlands on the refinery site, and the damage to Lake Superior and its surrounding water, land and air resources that are inevitable in a project of this scope.

The refinery expansion is a $6 billion endeavor, along with an $8 billion pipeline addition - - good for some of the local economies, but not necessarily a boon to the region's fishing and tourism industries.

Or the long-term health of residents who will breathe in the additional pollutants that Murphy officials say will accompany the expansion.

As I have said before, it's such a contradictory time in Wisconsin and the rest of the Great Lakes region.

On the one hand, there is an effort to adopt the Great Lakes Compact, an eight-state, two-nation (with Canada) agreement to help preserve the Great Lakes.

On the other, Canadians are tearing up Alberta to gouge out the tar sand oil, expending huge amounts of energy and water to separate the oil from the sand and pipe the gooey product to the Great Lakes states for refining.

We seem to want better Great Lakes water quality, and preserved quantities, yet we also want more oil and, if Wisconsin and federal officials agree, are willing to dirty up the Great Lakes ecosystem to refine what the Canadians have dug up at great cost to the north.

Media are filled daily with stories about renewable energy, and the tar sand approach is certainly the exact opposite, so we march in the opposite direction hoping that tar sand oil will somehow keep the price of a gallon of gasoline affordable.

Don't count it.


Dave1 said...

You talk a lot about the (potential) impacts of the refinery on Lake Superior.

First off, the refinery is a couple of miles from the Lake ... potential spills aren't an issue.

Second, if you look up the effluent data from the refinery, you'll see that their effluent is cleaner than almost every municipal water plant effluent in the region.

I tend to agree with the company ... if we don't refine this resource cleanly and efficiently here, it will just go somewhere else.

James Rowen said...

To Dave1:

So the contamination of Newton Creek was contained in the creek?

And none of the pollutants cited in this consent decree - - - - ended up in the Lake?

Dave1 said...

Newton Creek goes back to the 1950s when many industries and the City of Superior legally dumped all sorts of things into the Creek and Lake Superior. The important thing is that it has now been remediated and we are living with better regulations.

Most of the consent decree has to do with air emissions issues. Last time I read it, I saw no discussion of issues affecting Newton Creek or the Lake.

The primary pollutant from the refinery is sulfur dioxide. The consent decree required significant reductions that have been achieved.

It might surprise you to know that Murphy isn't the biggest emitter of sulfur dioxide even within the City of Superior.

As a refiner, Murphy isn't alone in having a consent decree. The EPA has been working for years to get every refinery under a consent decree with more stringent requirements than are required by regulation. Murphy was one of the early consent decree settlers.

James Rowen said...

According to the City of Superior website, Newton Creek eventually empties into Lake Superior, and the pollutants emerging from Murphy's operations were severe.

Yes, there has been a cleanup, just now showing positive results, so I would argue that this is a strange time indeed to expand the very operation, by a factor of 6-7,that produced the problems in the first place.

Let alone an expansion designed to refine tar sand crude oil - - a product that has greater greenhouse emission than oil from other sources.

Some detail from the city web description of Newton Creek is below. I will post the URL in a minute in the comments section.

You are convinced that everything will be OK, and that Murphy is actually an asset for the environment.

I am less convinced, based on Murphy's track record.

From the city site:

About Newton Creek

The Features of Newton Creek

Newton Creek drains a large wetland complex west of Murphy USA Superior Oil Refinery, on the outskirts if the City of Superior. It receives discharge water from Murphy Oil before flowing north through a city park and residential areas; beyond the park it empties into Hog Island Inlet and ultimately into Superior Bay. While the headwater wetlands contribute to the stream’s baseflow, the majority of the stream’s flow arises in the refinery’s lagoons (WDNR Basin Plan). The channel shows little geomorphic complexity, and streambed sediments are rarely mobilized, which diminishes diversity of aquatic and riparian organisms. Lack of high flow events prevents scour and deposition of sediments in the streambed, and the floodplain is restricted by railroad berms on either side of the stream. Therefore, the stream cannot migrate laterally, and culverts provide a barrier to fish migration.

Two weir gates, one on East 21st St. and another north of the intersection of Stinson and Bardon Avenues, control surface water drainage from Murphy Oil, though the operability and control status of this gate is not known (CTE Surface Water Management Plan).

Pollution in Newton Creek and Hog Island Inlet

This is a heavily polluted stream and contains limited aquatic life due to severe pollution. Sediments in various areas of the Newton Creek system are significantly contaminated with a variety of pollutants toxic to aquatic organisms, and support only an impaired benthic macroinvertebrate community. Bioassays (i.e. tests of potency of a substance in an organism) of tissue in test organisms in Newton Creek and the area around the creek mouth at Hog Island show that petroleum byproducts, metals, and other substances were found in the tissue. A characterization study done by the WDNR in 1993 and 1994 concluded that ecological impacts of contamination in the sediments of Newton Creek are severe, based on observed impairment to the aquatic community, measured toxicity, and high concentrations of diesel range organics and lead. Pollutants of concern include hydrocarbons, metals, and ammonia. Lead, chromium, and mercury levels are also elevated in the Newton Creek System. In addition, water quality data collected by the WDNR indicate that some reaches of the stream have levels of dissolved oxygen below the 5-mg/L level necessary for growth and activity of fish. Phosphorus levels of more than 30 ppb are thought to increase plant growth, which draws down available oxygen in the water. Newton Creek’s phosphorus concentrations range as high as 300 ppb, while phosphorus levels at Hog Island were higher than 100 ppb in several samples (WDNR Basin Plan).

James Rowen said...

Here is the City of Superior's website URL containing the description of the POLLUTED creek that ran close to Murphy property;

Dave1 said...

No question that the creek was polluted in the past .... Murphy, Enbridge, The C. Reiss Coal Company, the City of Superior, the railroad, and others all dischaged things into the creek that we wouldn''t dream of today .... it wasn't illegal at the time. Thank goodnes it is now.

The creek was cleaned up with Murphy's assistance and the water from the refinery is very clean now ... look it up ... it's cleaner than most municipal water plants.

As a Superior resident, I'm well aware of Murphy's past record. However, as times changed, they have changed as well and are now a much more responsible company.

I'm guessing you used leaded gasoline in your car when it was legal ... does that make you responsible for some of the lead in the environment?

Anonymous said...

besides the fact that murphy has an extremely poor history of obeying environmental laws, and safety laws, oil sands are only going to worsen global warming. it's time to talk about real solutions for our world, and increasing greenhouse gases isn't one of them.

Unknown said...

i was just reading these threads and i keep seeing a trend, dave1 keep refering to the now and the ones that are still screeming polution are going on stuff that happened in the past, if you want to make an argument that will make someone pay attention to you start with more recent data and not " well 30 years ago bla bal bla" then i will take what you have to say with some sort of meaning. EVERY company has done what these days is considered bad things but then it was not bad at all becouse nobody cared they didnt think. stop attacking past events and start attacking if you can, the polution control equipment they are using these days,the laws and such and deal with murphy oil now.