OPINION: Fully understand risks posed by Murphy Oil expansionUntil we see Murphy’s permit applications, we won’t know what exact risks the expansion will pose to human and environmental health.
By: By MELISSA MALOTT, The Daily Telegram
Murphy Oil is discussing a major expansion of their facility, and many people are beginning to discuss the benefits and risks of this potential project. Until we see Murphy’s permit applications, we won’t know what exact risks the expansion will pose to human and environmental health. In the meantime, we can prepare to raise responsible questions by researching what has happened in other situations, and the risks that various facilities and chemicals pose. For example, we know from the EPA’s Petroleum Refining Industry sector notebook that oil refineries release chemicals that are hazardous to human and environmental health. While we don’t know what Murphy will release, and in what amounts, we do know:
• The extraction and production of tar sands produces, on average, three times more greenhouse gas emissions than that of crude oil.
• Oil sands extraction is devastating to the environment, ruining boreal forests and creating toxic sludge ponds so large you can see them from space.
• A bigger refinery poses the potential for a bigger catastrophic accident.
• Murphy is discussing filling 400 acres of wetlands for this proposed expansion.
• Wisconsin has other options for jobs and industrial growth in the transportation fuels sector, through biofuels, such as cellulosic ethanol, biofuels from grasses, food waste, forestry and more.
We don’t know what Murphy will produce and emit into the air and water, nor what the facility would look like. It would be helpful if Murphy provided updates about the data and decisions they are contemplating, as the community and state would have to live with the consequences of this refinery. In the meantime, we have a responsibility to find out the potential risks of an oil refinery expansion, and be prepared with the tough questions about what this will mean for our state’s citizens and natural resources.
Finally, a recent Superior Daily Telegram editorial stated the questions and concerns I raised in a recent meeting were inaccurate. Specifically, the editorial said that I blamed Murphy for the Burlington-Northern benzene spill. This is not true. According to the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory, in 1993, Murphy Oil released 334 pounds of benzene onto the land or wetlands around their facility. This is a different spill than the Burlington Northern spill. I never claimed they were one and the same.
All concerns I raised were based on risks associated with increased pollution from larger refining facilities, and on research I’ve done into Murphy’s compliance history. In fact, my primary information sources included old Murphy permits and compliance records. Additional comparisons were made to refineries of a similar size to that Murphy is proposing for Superior, and to other facilities that refine oil sands. Finally, I also drew on interviews with experts, and published reports on oil sands refining. These are fair comparisons.
Again, once Murphy presents specifics about what they are proposing, all we can do is look at analogous information.
Attorney Melissa Malott is water program director for Clean Wisconsin