Petroleum coke, a byproduct of tar sands refining, is building up along Chicago’s Calumet River and alarming residents, reportedMidwest Energy News.
Petroleum coke is a high-carbon, high-sulfur byproduct of Canadian tar sands that are shipped from Alberta to the U.S. to be refined and is rapidly becoming a cause for concern in Chicago. “It’s growing by leaps and bounds,” Southeast Environmental Task Force member Tom Shepherd, told Midwest Energy News. “It’s coming at a breathtaking rate.”
The pet coke is owned by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch whose operations drew similar outrage from residents and elected officials in Detroit earlier this year. In July, a large black cloud of pet coke dust was spotted over the Detroit River and caught on camera by residents across the border in Windsor. Members of the communities in close proximity to the piles were complaining of respiratory problems as the thick, black dust was blowing off the piles and into their apartments.
Rep. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township), whose district includes the Detroit waterfront where the piles were building up, said the tar sands waste “is dirtier than the dirtiest fuel” and demanded a federal study into the impacts of the product on public health and the environment.
In August, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing ordered the removal of the pet coke piles — after which they reportedly became Ohio’s problem.
Detroit’s pet coke piles were produced by Marathon Refinery but owned by Koch Carbon, a subsidiary of Koch Industries. In Chicago they are owned by KCBX, an affiliate of Koch Carbon, which has large parcels of land along the Calumet River and, according to Midwest Energy News, expanded its presence in the area last year. And it’s not just the Koch piles area residents have to worry about; just across the border in Indiana, BP Whiting’s refinery is undergoing a $3.8 billion upgrade which includes construction of the world’s second largest coker.
Not only does petroleum coke pose a serious risk to nearby air and water supplies, but the product can also be used as a cheaper — and even dirtier — alternative to coal. Since most power plants in the U.S. and Canada won’t burn pet coke due to the high level of greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants, the companies often ship the waste product to developing countries with looser pollution restrictions.
And as companies look to expand their pipeline network to keep pace with the increased production of tar sands in Alberta, petroleum coke piles could be appearing in more U.S. communities that contain refineries, such as the Midwest and the Gulf Coast.