BY CHRISTINE KRALY, Times of Northwest Indiana

CHICAGO | Refinery expansions in Great Lakes states need close scrutiny given the concerns raised at BP's Whiting Refinery last summer, a group of environmentalists said Tuesday.

In a special Chicago-area meeting, Members of the Alliance for the Great Lakes discussed expansions at four refineries located on the Great Lakes that are planning to process crude oil from Canadian tar sands.

The projects are in various development stages, with some companies still conducting feasibility studies and others awaiting final emission permits. Marathon Oil in Detroit, for example, is awaiting its permits for a $1.5 billion expansion, according to Alliance.

The environmental outcry over BP's wastewater discharge permit last year highlighted issues that could exist in other refinery plans, said Lyman Welch, Alliance's water quality program manager. Alliance has submitted concerns to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality related to Marathon's proposed Detroit refinery expansion.

Marathon has been meeting with local Detroit environmentalists regarding concerns surrounding its permit, Welch said.

"From what I understand, the groups feel they've been making a good-faith effort to explain what they're doing," Welch said. "That kind of feedback form the public is critically important."

And Conoco-Phillips in Roxana, Ill., has faced concerns regarding global warming effects from its $1 billion expansion project, Welch said.

In addition, a proposed expansion of Murphy Oil in Superior, Wis., could eat up acres of vital wetlands, Welch added.

Another site in Elk Point, S.D., would be one of the first new refineries built in the country in decades, Welch said.

He said state and federal regulators need to better ensure refinery permits to protect the environment, especially given the extra resources used to refine Canadian crude.

The Canadian sands are heavier and require a dirtier, costlier process that uses a lot of water, Welch said. Welch estimated that up to four barrels of water are used to make one barrel of the Canadian sand passable through a pipeline.

Extracting the sands also requires a lot of energy, which could result in high greenhouse gas releases, he said.

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