Detroit River's pet coke problem not over, just moved downstream

Monday, March 24, 2014 by: PF Louis
Tags: pet coke, Detroit River, tar sands

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(NaturalNews) You may wonder what pet coke is. It's a byproduct of petroleum processing from crude oil. As explained on BP's (formerly British Petroleum) internet site: "Crude oil is a complex mixture of hydrocarbons, sometimes characterized as 'a useless mixture of useful products.' Petroleum coke is, essentially, the 'bottom of the crude barrel' - the carbon in the crude charge that cannot be recovered in normal refining processes."

Well then, it's a waste byproduct. So what's it good for? It is similar to coal in appearance to coal but yields somewhat higher amounts of energy than it, and with even higher levels of pollution. The EPA has been phasing out its use in the USA by not approving permits for its use anymore.

But market demands from developing companies with lower enforced emission and pollution standards in Latin America, Mexico and several parts of Asia have been one source of revenue for the famed Koch brothers. William Koch's Oxbow Corporation has become a leading international seller of pet coke, selling 11 million tons of the dirty energy annually.

The process of refining crude oil pays off more by selling a waste byproduct and storing it on waterfront sites to be sold in overseas markets. It removes the onus of where to store this waste product from the refineries that collect it.

A recent surge in more accessible but difficult to process toxic sand oil or tar from Alberta, Canada, into the Midwest was achieved by finishing a pipeline connecting Canada's boreal forest tar sands oil reserves to the Great Lakes region.

And the USA's Midwest contains many rail yards and lines and inland waterways that connect to the Great Lakes, the Atlantic via the Montreal waterway and the Gulf of Mexico region via the Mississippi River.

That's the same type of oil the Keystone XL pipeline proposes to transport all the way down to the Gulf region from Alberta, Canada. There has already been a serious pipeline spill of this highly toxic, corrosive crude oil from the existing Great Lakes pipeline into Michigan's Kalamazoo River.

Detroit and Chicago citizens see black and protest nearby open air pet coke storage

Lately, there have been sufficient protests by Detroit and south Chicago residents to arouse actions from both cities being affected by the dust from enormous open-air piles stored on nearby riverfront storage sites or terminals, many of which are owned by the Koch brothers.

The huge piles are often 40 to 50 feet high and cover wide areas. Storage facilities hose them down with water and a sealant, but the tops of the piles do dry enough for winds to blow huge black clouds of pet coke dust into nearby residential areas.

The dust is actually sticky, and even dry coal dust can cause serious long-term health problems by breathing it in. And the pet coke dust can certainly be breathed in. Citizens of both areas have complained that the dust infiltrates their homes or apartments and leaves residues.

In Detroit, the city managed to have the inner city area piles removed. But Detroit Bulk Storage is seeking approval to move down the Detroit River into a 15-acre riverfront site in nearby River Rouge. Though not as populated, River Rouge residents are raising concerns over further polluting a river on the way to recovery.

But some Chicago residents speculate that many Detroit piles were sent to Chicago, where the Koch brothers own a couple of large open-air storage facilities.

The Koch brothers' KCBX company in Chicago struck a deal with BP to be the sole storage facility for pet coke from BP's refinery in nearby Whiting, Indiana. The BP refinery has benefited from the tar sands oil piped in from Alberta and is building a new "coker" to produce more higher-energy-yeild pet coke and assume the status of the second highest pet coke producer in the world.

In early March 2014, Chicago Mayor Emanuel Rahm announced restrictions on pet coke storage that would require all storage sites to completely cover open-air pet coke piles in storage or on moving barges, freight train cars, and trucks within two years.

The pet coke industry is howling about this, but at least the lines have been drawn in the sand.

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