BP Investor Looks Out for “Market Conditions” as Oil Pipeline Bursts, Spilling Oil Tied to BP Refinery

MADISON — On Monday an oil pipeline burst, threatening Lake Michigan with an EPA estimate of more than one million gallons of oil likely meant for BP’s refinery in Whiting, Indiana — a century-old facility known for its record of safety violations and pollution.

Also on Monday, Ron Johnson, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate and BP investor, backtracked from earlier statements he made and said “market conditions” would decide if and when he would divest from up to $315,000 in BP stock. Johnson opposes a BP compensation fund for victims of the Gulf oil spill and told radio host Ed Morrissey after the BP oil spill that now, “is not the time to be beating up on those guys [BP], quite honestly.”  [The Ed Morrissey Show: Ron Johnson, 6/2/2010]

On July 11, the Associated Press reported, “To help avoid the perception of a conflict of interest, Johnson's campaign said he plans to move his financial holdings to a blind trust.” [AP, 7/11/10]

And on July 12, Wisconsin Public Radio quoted Johnson as saying, “It’ll be sold. I’ll be using those funds to get my message out, quite honestly.” [Wisconsin Public Radio, 7/12/10]

This Monday, July 26, Johnson said, "I think that [selling BP stock] will eventually happen but I'm going to do it based on market conditions. I'm going to have to finance this campaign. At some point in time, to get my message out, that will probably happen. But it's going to be based on market conditions." [WisPolitics Luncheon, 7/26/10]

“Ron Johnson’s shifting positions and silence on an oil spill that could threaten the Great Lakes makes it clear he can’t be trusted to be vigilant and protect our Great Lakes,” said Mike Tate, Chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. “We are now seeing what his ‘we have to get the oil where it is’ position looks like, and it’s wrong for Wisconsin.”

The same day Johnson backtracked on his pledge an oil pipeline burst near Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, which flows into Lake Michigan. The media reported yesterday that, “the oil has traveled at least 35 miles downstream from where it leaked.” [AP, 7/29/10] Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm said the spill, “would be a tragedy of historic proportions if this reached Lake Michigan.” [New York Times, 7/28/10]

The pipeline, owned by a Canadian company called Enbridge, Inc., carries crude oil between tar sands in Canada to BP’s Whiting facility, one of the largest oil refineries in the Midwest. Enbridge has a history of pipeline problems, including leaks, an explosion and dozens of regulatory violations.

In addition, just last year BP’s Whiting refinery was cited by the EPA for dumping almost 16 times the limit of the toxic chemical benzene – known to cause cancer – into Lake Michigan. [EPA 6/2/09] The plant also releases up to 1,584 pounds of ammonia and 4,925 pounds of suspended solids daily into Lake Michigan. [Washington Post, 8/23/07]

Earlier this week, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin called for Ron Johnson to stop playing games and divest from his BP stock - and donate the profits to support the BP Victims' Compensation Fund.

Johnson has also received national media attention for his wavering positions on the issue.