A couple months ago, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing ordered the removal of huge piles of petroleum coke, a by-product of refining tar sands oil into gasoline and other products, from land along the Detroit River. Now the same problem is growing in the Chicago area where refineries are producing even larger amounts of the stuff.
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…
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.
The Whiting refinery is owned by BP. In 2007, that refinery was given permission by state and federal agencies to increase the amount of ammonia and sludge it can dump into Lake Michigan. It now dumps 54% more ammonia and 35% more sludge into the lake. That new permit also allowed them to increase the amount of mercury it releases into the lake to 20 times the legal limit. And the more tar sands oil is refined rather than conventional crude, the higher the concentration of heavy metals and toxic substances like mercury will be released.
Add to this the problem with coal ash, a byproduct of producing energy by burning coal. We produce about 140 million tons of it every year. In Tennessee in 2008, 1.1 billion — yes billion — gallons of coal ash slurry leaked from a containment pond, polluting two rivers and destroying 300 acres of property. The health effects will be serious and are likely to last decades at the very least.
Things like this are why I think we need to launch a TVA-level project to develop next-generation renewable energy sources. Even if someone thinks global warming is a big hoax, reducing and eventually eliminating our reliance on fossil fuels to produce energy will dramatically boost public health in innumerable ways and is better for us on nearly every count.