Environment
Environment

The Future Of Keystone? Koch Brothers’ Tar Sands Waste Piles Up In Chicago, Detroit

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht

Michigan's detroit river isn't the only one piling up with tar sands byproduct. The shores of Chicago's Calumet River are also polluted, leaving many to wonder if this toxic petroleum coke is what’s in store for the Gulf Coast and Midwest if the Keystone XL pipeline is completed.

The byproduct is coming from tar sands shipped from Alberta to the U.S. for refining. While most of it looks like black rock, a large black cloud was seen in July over the Detroit River. Wind also blows black dust from piles of rocky "petcoke." Those living close to the Calumet have complained of respiratory problems.

While Koch claims that the waste is "handled" by local companies, Midwest Energy News reports that some of the piles on the Calumet are over five stories high.

Illinois State Rep. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, has called for a federal study on the health impact and environment effects of this byproduct he says “is dirtier than the dirtiest fuel.”

Petcoke can be used as a cheaper replacement for coal, but countries like Canada prohibit its use as an energy source because of its monumentally high carbon emissions. It’s usually sold to countries with minimal emissions standards.

The petcoke belongs to Koch Industries, the oil corporation that owns the Keystone XL, a pipeline that once built will run from Canada, through the U.S., to the Gulf of Mexico. Koch is waiting for approval for the pipeline that would rune from Canada to Oklahoma. For the section from Oklahoma to the Gulf of Mexico, however, it doesn’t require government approval.

Many have riffed on the byproduct calling it “PetKoch.”

Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC spokesman Paul Baltzer told Midwest Energy News, “KCBX Terminals Co. has been handling various bulk products, including pet coke, in Chicago for more than 20 years.”

“It’s growing by leaps and bounds,” said Southeast Environmental Task Force member Tom Shepherd, referring to piles of petcoke. “It’s coming at a breathtaking rate.”

“Petcoke tends to have higher metal content than coal – like nickel, vanadium and selenium. Coal can have higher mercury content, so they’re both bad in terms of toxic heavy metals content,” said Meleah Geertsma, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s climate and clean air program.

Geertsma said the NRDC is investigating the permits for KCBX and other Chicago facilities handling petcoke.

“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 tends to have higher metal content than coal – like nickel, vanadium and selenium,” added Geertsma. “Coal can have higher mercury content, so they’re both bad in terms of toxic heavy metals content.”

Sources: ThinkProgress, Midwest Energy News