Toxic black dust covers a working class community in south Chicago when strong winds pick up Koch Industries owned petcoke piled high along the Calumet River.
Detroit found out the Kocks dirty secret first. Now south Chicago knows. What happens in Alberta doesn't stay in Alberta. Petcoke, the dirty high carbon residue of Canadian tar sands refining, fouled Detroit. Detroit ordered the petcoke piles out. Now petcoke piles are covering south Chicago with black dust laced with toxic vanadium. Petcoke, the tar sands residue that is worse for the climate than burning coal, has been piled up near midwest refineries awaiting export to countries that allow it to be burned. Because it's a waste product of oil refining the Kochs sell it for prices cheaper than coal to poor nations willing the accept pollution as a trade off for cheap energy. Petcoke is the carbon cost ignored in the State department analysis that falsely claimed that Keystone XL tar sands oil will not significantly increase greenhouse gas pollution compared with conventional oil. The dirty carbon secret that the Kochs don't want you to know about is literally blowing in the wind. Working class and lower middle class communities were, as usual, the first to learn the Koch's dirty secret.
View of Pet Coke dust from 111th and Avenue M Southeast Chicago. Residents thought it was a fire before they realized it was a cloud of dust from piles of petcoke.
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.
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
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.
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.
A mountain of Petcoke has been growing along the Calumet River, southeast Chicago, awaiting export to countries willing to burn the dirty cheap carbon.
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.”
Petcoke is exported as cheap carbon fuel doing more climate damage than coal.
The damage from petcoke has only just begun as it fouls the air of the communities around its piles. The long-term damage to the climate from petcoke will be stunning if we continue to extract hydrocarbons from tar sands. Keystone XL must be stopped, but we must not stop there. Stopping Keystone XL is the first step in stopping tar sands exploitation, a must to save the climate.
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.
Keystone XL is a climate disaster in the making.