The Media on Oil Refinery Expansion

Not long ago, BP met a public relations disaster by making a request to increase its dumping of particulate matter into Lake Michigan by expanding its massive refinery on the south side of Chicago (lake calumet, technically). Despite the fact that the refinery’s added discharge would be somewhat trivial compared to the grand total of mysterious substances that Chicagoland’s industry and sewers dump into the lake annually, the request was quashed by an outraged public. Trivial or not, expanding oil refineries probably sets a bad precedent these days with great lakes cleanup high on the national priority list and fuel efficiency being far more important than increased production. The Chicago area press did a good job exposing the issue and leading the outcry against the added discharges.
Now, here’s an interesting piece of press. The JSOnline reports that Murphy Oil wants to make an even bigger refinery expansion in Superior, Wisconsin to process Alberta Oil (among the filthiest fuel options ever discovered). It’s unknown whether the expansion would result in added discharge to Lake Superior, but the company is taking the somewhat odd step of doing “everything it can to keep a similar controversy from exploding on the shores of Lake Superior”
The reason it’s odd is that I can’t tell from the article if Murphy oil wants to avoid discharges all together, or if they are simply trying to avoid having anyone find out. Read the article and you tell me. Economic opportunities are important, but increasing our dependency on oil, and worsening the state of the lakes, especially the relatively pristine Lake Superior seems like a bad policy to me. Whether they like it or not, the press is out now.

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of has grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.

3 responses

  1. I think the fact that they were talking to state regulators about potential permits indicates that they are planning to increase pollution.
    I agree that it is bad timing to go with such a dirty development, which will increase our dependency on oil. Oil sands are much dirtier, inefficient, and water consumptive than normal oil production. This is a step 30 years back.
    Unfortunately for us, this is right on Lake Superior, our cleanest and greatest of the Great Lakes. Under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, there is a (nonbinding) pilot project to have no new or increased discharges on Lake Superior. Given BP’s commitment to not increase pollution into Lake Michigan, Murphy should at least live up to a similar standard an commit to not increasing pollution. More importantly, Murphy should look into a realistic energy future and process something more sustainable.

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