Members of World Can’t Wait Chicago joined impassioned groups and individuals from across the Midwest at the BP Refinery in Whiting, Indiana on May 15 to say no to fossil fuels. This was one of dozens of coordinated actions around the world (more here). After a rally that drew about 750 people, we joined a march and walked for over a mile past enormous oil tanks, railroad tracks used by trains transporting huge quantities of oil and tall smokestacks some emitting flames.
The scale of this refinery that borders homes and Lake Michigan is stunning. In 2014, the BP Whiting Refinery finished a $4 billion upgrade to shift its refining from light crude to heavy oil sands form Alberta, Canada. The refinery now produces 430,000 barrels a day, supplying gasoline to most of the Upper Midwest. It is the largest processor of tar sands in the US. In March 2014, just months after its upgrade, as much as 1,600 gallons of oil were dumped into Lake Michigan due to a processing error. Weighing heavily on our minds was the risk this refinery poses to the most important source of fresh water in the Midwest, Lake Michigan, as well to the impact it has on climate change and the planet.
People who have suffered the terrible effects of poisoned water in Flint, Michigan attended the Whiting, Indiana protest as well as a large contingent of Native Americans whose lands have been subjected to destruction by tar sands oil extraction. Members of World Can’t Wait carried a huge hand-painted banner with a message to “stop the war on water” and the planet, and many people thanked us for our signs calling out the US military as a top contributor to climate change.
A few years ago, when World Can’t Wait Chicago initiated the coalition that organized the Climate Crisis Conference, almost no one knew about this huge refinery just miles away from Chicago, so this action raised that awareness throughout the area in a major way. We noted a lot of vibrant creativity and great sentiment among the protesters that saving the environment had to come before profits, but we also found a lot of confusion about what it will take to accomplish that. It was a diverse crowd with a diversity of perspectives, with a strong strain looking for real resistance. At the end of the march, about 40 people were arrested at a peaceful sit-in at the refinery; all were released later that evening.