The Southeast Environmental Task Force has made it known to public officials that there is a great need to address the looming problem of PET COKE storage along the Calumet River.Tar sands is carbon safely sequestered by nature in the ground. Mining it is destroying the land and poisoning the water of Alberta. Any means of transporting tar sands extract, known as dilbit is dangerous. Because tar sands extract is viscous it is diluted with toxic, volatile, aromatic hydrocarbon. When pipelines leak, as they inevitably do, the volatiles evaporate and the toxic, heavier than water extract, sinks into lakes, ponds, rivers and into the ground, poisoning everything it touches. If transported by rail it can destroy whole towns in an accident. As it's refined, tar sands oil creates a large volume of waste called petroleum coke or petcoke. As tar sands exploitation increases, petcoke is piling up near more and more refineries across the midwest.
Thank you to Ald. Pope, State Reps Marcus Evans and Barbara Flynn Currie, State Sen. Kwame Raoule, Congressman Robin Kelly’s office for accompanying us on a tour of the river to observe the giant hills of the dusty black product being shipped in, stored and distributed so close to the homes on the southeast side. We are asking for their help in monitoring and regulating the shipment and storage of this product being moved in from the BP refinery in Whiting, Ind. The Task Force wasn’t alone in showing concern. We also had along: the South Chicago Chamber of Commerce, Illinois Environmental Council, Respiratory Health Assn., Natural Resources Defense Council, and Environmental Law & Policy Center for the two tours that we conducted.
The pictures you can see here show what we observed. More about the actions we’re taking will soon follow.
Meanwhile, we urge neighbors to call us at 773-646-0436 to report any problems arising from the major operations that are currently taking place from 100th Street to 112th along the river. Also, call 3-1-1 to make reports, or 9-1-1 if there is a major dust problem or other mishap
As in Detroit, the Chicago piles are part of the business empire of the Koch brothers, earning the nickname “PetKoch.” KCBX, an affiliate of Koch Carbon which is a subsidiary of Koch Industries, owns large parcels of land along the Calumet River.
Locals say the amount of petcoke has skyrocketed as BP Whiting’s refinery just across the border in Indiana nears completion of a $3.8 billion upgrade to process more tar sands oil. Still in the works is the refinery’s new coker, which will be the second largest in the world and process 102,000 barrels of oil per day, creating petcoke as the tar sands are heated to 900 degrees F.
“It’s growing by leaps and bounds,” said Southeast Environmental Task Force member Tom Shepherd, gazing at the piles from the 106th Street bridge on a recent afternoon. “It’s coming at a breathtaking rate.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council is investigating permits for the KCBX and Beemsterboer facilities and the origin of the material on the sites, said Meleah Geertsma, an attorney in the NRDC’s climate and clean air program. She said the facilities would be subject to permitting requirements related to fugitive dust and to any run-off into the river, but stricter state and federal requirements specifically for such piles are needed.
“In the past state permits have been written very vaguely to leave a whole lot of discretion up to the company, to essentially make them unenforceable,” she said. “They’re saying things like ‘apply water as needed’ – instead of apply water four times a day.”
In the President’s recent speech on climate change, he said “our national interest will be served only if [Keystone XL] does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”
There are many reasons that the Keystone XL pipeline will clearly exacerbate the problem of climate pollution…but one that is often overlooked (at our peril) is the problem of petroleum coke (aka “petcoke”). Petcoke is a refining byproduct of tar sands oil, and when burned is substantially dirtier than coal and contributes significantly to greenhouse gas pollution.
Read below to see just how significant Keystone XL’s petcoke problem would be…with enough petcoke to add emissions equivalent to 3.5 million additional cars each year, the question of whether Keystone XL’s climate impact is “significant” becomes an easy one to answer.