Will a mountain of refinery waste be your new neighbor?

SHARE Will a mountain of refinery waste be your new neighbor?
SHARE Will a mountain of refinery waste be your new neighbor?

Over the past year, residents of Chicago’s Southeast Side have seen mountains of refinery waste called petcoke grow as tall as five stories near the Calumet River.

The mountains are directly tied to the growing use of tar sands oil, which technology has made economically viable.

Various efforts are underway to tap into more tar sands oil reserves. Because refining it produces petcoke as a by-product, there will be a need for more petcoke storage sites.

The proposed Keystone pipeline is the best-known effort to bring tar sands oil to market, but there also are others, including the now-under-construction Flanagan South pipeline, which would run within 100 miles of Chicago.CNBC reported today that the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil a day will soon be moving by rail from western Canada into the United States even if the Keystone pipeline isn’t built.

Tar sands oil can reduce the need for Mideast oil and can help make North America energy independent. But environmentalists say environmental issues must be addressed. Tar sands oil emits much more carbon dioxide and other gases during production than do lighter grades.

As local governments invest more heavily in spiffing up waterways around Chicago, questions also will be raised about whether large piles of petcoke are the best use of the land along the Calumet River.

Chicago also just spent $64 million to extend South Lake Shore Drive and is planning to redevelop the former South Works steel site. Swirling clouds of gritty petcoke dust nearby won’t help.

Read a Nov. 4 Sun-Times editorial on petcoke and the Southeast Side here.

Read an Oct. 31 Sun-Times news story here.

Read a Chicago Tribune editorial here.

UPDATE: 4:45 PM NOV 4:Attorney General Lisa Madigan on Monday sued a company that stores petcoke for alleged air pollution caused by mounting piles of petroleum coke and coal at its site along the Calumet River in Chicago. The growing mounds of refinery waste allegedly are sending clouds of black dust into nearby residential areas, Madigan’s office said. Read the office’s statement here.

UPDATE: 5:03 PM NOV 4: Here’s Monday’s statement fromNatural Resources Defense Council Midwest Director Henry Henderson on Madigan’s lawsuit:

“The Southeast Side is not the oil industry’s dumping ground, so the growing mounds of petroleum coke make clear that immediate action is necessary to avoid turning the area into a sacrifice zone. The lawsuit filed today by the Illinois Attorney General seeking fines against one of the responsible parties is a good first step in addressing the problem. More is needed to protect the community and our environment.

“BP will soon be spewing 6,000 tons of petcoke out of its nearby refinery in Whiting every day. Once that starts, we are likely to see an even bigger public health threat in the area unless aggressive action is taken to protect the surrounding communities. We need tighter enforcement of existing laws aimed at protecting communities from air pollution and better information on the full range of health and safety threats posed by petcoke. The petcoke pilers are operating by a playground. That just cannot continue as things stand now.”

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