Residents near Chicago are complaining about growing piles of petroleum coke - an ugly result of tar sands oil refining - that are building up along the banks of Calumet River. The carbon byproduct was reported and removed from nearby Detroit this summer.
While similar forms of coke byproduct have derived from coal production, petroleum coke – also known as pet-coke – results when tar sands are refined.
The substance made headlines earlier this year when a pet-coke pile that was three stories high and one block long created an ominous black cloud that floated over Detroit, Michigan. Citizens in nearby Windsor complained that they experienced respiratory problems and other ailments when the pet-coke infiltrated their water supply and floated through open windows.
The byproduct, which is approximately 90 percent carbon, has started creating similar problems along the Calumet River, which runs from South Chicago to Gary, Indiana.
“We’re really concerned about what’s going on in our backyard on the Southeast Side, but this is also an issue throughout the Great Lakes and across the nation,” Josh Mogerman, spokesman for the Natural resources Defense Council, told Midwest Energy News. “It’s going to become a bigger and bigger problem, and it’s not going away.”
The pet-coke in question is owned by KCBX, a subsidiary of Koch Industries, which is owned by multi-billionaires Charles and David Koch. Koch Industries also owns Marathon Refinery - the Michigan plant responsible for the ugly black cloud that appeared earlier this year.
Michigan residents were outraged when it was revealed that the Koch brothers, who have been connected to lobby efforts seeking to obstruct climate change prevention and stop clean energy policies, were storing the pet-coke illegally. At a public hearing set up to investigate the matter, residents accused authorities responsible for protecting the environment of neglecting their duties.
“State Department of Environmental Quality regulators and Detroit city officials appeared to be caught flat-footed by the piles, and scrambled this spring to assess whether they harmed nearby air and water quality only after media reports and complaints from residents and local lawmakers,” the Detroit Free Press reported at the time.
The uncertainty is spreading throughout the region as more cities facilitate the Alberta-based tar sands industry. Each barrel of oil shipped from Canada produces between 60 and 130 lbs of pet-coke. That is then sent overseas and incinerated in electricity generators because the Environmental Protection Agency has stopped issuing permits for the burning of pet-coke inside the US.
“This is dirtier than the dirtiest fuel,” Gay Peters, a Michigan politician who represents the lot where the pet-coke pile was stored, told the Guardian. “We need to know more about this material and the impact on communities. I don’t think enough is known.”