After Sparking Outrage in Detroit, Koch Brothers’ Tar Sands Waste Now Piling Up in Chicago

Written by Kiley Kroh

Petroleum coke, a byproduct of tar sands refining, is building up along Chicago’s Calumet River and alarming residents, reported Midwest Energy News.

Petroleum coke is a high-carbon, high-sulfur byproduct of Canadian tar sands that are shipped from Alberta to the U.S. to be refined and is rapidly becoming a cause for concern in Chicago. “It’s growing by leaps and bounds,” Southeast Environmental Task Force member Tom Shepherd, told Midwest Energy News. “It’s coming at a breathtaking rate.”

The pet coke is owned by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch whose operations drew similar outrage from residents and elected officials in Detroit earlier this year. In July, a large black cloud of pet coke dust was spotted over the Detroit River and caught on camera by residents across the border in Windsor. Members of the communities in close proximity to the piles were complaining of respiratory problems as the thick, black dust was blowing off the piles and into their apartments.

Rep. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township), whose district includes the Detroit waterfront where the piles were building up, said the tar sands waste “is dirtier than the dirtiest fuel” and demanded a federal study into the impacts of the product on public health and the environment.

In August, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing ordered the removal of the pet coke piles — after which they reportedly became Ohio’s problem.

Detroit’s pet coke piles were produced by Marathon Refinery but owned by Koch Carbon, a subsidiary of Koch Industries. In Chicago they are owned by KCBX, an affiliate of Koch Carbon, which has large parcels of land along the Calumet River and, according to Midwest Energy News, expanded its presence in the area last year. And it’s not just the Koch piles area residents have to worry about; just across the border in Indiana, BP Whiting’s refinery is undergoing a $3.8 billion upgrade which includes construction of the world’s second largest coker.

Not only does petroleum coke pose a serious risk to nearby air and water supplies, but the product can also be used as a cheaper — and even dirtier — alternative to coal. Since most power plants in the U.S. and Canada won’t burn pet coke due to the high level of greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants, the companies often ship the waste product to developing countries with looser pollution restrictions.

And as companies look to expand their pipeline network to keep pace with the increased production of tar sands in Alberta, petroleum coke piles could be appearing in more U.S. communities that contain refineries, such as the Midwest and the Gulf Coast.

This post was originally published in ThinkProgress

Photo Credit: Terren in Virginia


Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing

Debbie Crowe
Debbie Crowe5 years ago

Charles and David Koch don't seem to care what happens to the people in these areas! You can bet they don't live near where this is happening!

GGmaSheila D.
Sheila D5 years ago

Sounds like the Koch Bros want to contaminate as much fresh water as they can, killing people and wildlife as they go.

Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra5 years ago

Thank you ThinkProgress, for Sharing this!

Claire Duerden
Claire Baines5 years ago

Is the ch in their surname pronounced ch as in church, or ck as in, well, cock?!!!

Monica D.
Monica D5 years ago

Ues less oil. Go car-free if you can, and lobby officials for cycle paths.. Cycling can be a healthy, environmentally friendly way to commute reasonable distances.

william Miller
william Miller5 years ago

I am sure this was not to come to light until after XL was built will this help us to stop it NO!

Jane H.
Jane H5 years ago

Fight this by opposing the Keystone XL Pipeline!! And any other pipelines! We have a better chance by electing Democrats than Repugnicans. Call or write President Obama to tell him to nix the Keystone.

Mary L.
Mary L5 years ago

Compress it under great pressure and use it for the Coke brothers prison housing. It's their pet coke after all.

Stanley R.
Stanley R5 years ago

Bury the Koch fiends in the tar sands, then flush them down the Keystone XL pipeline with a Monsanto drip of GM, then a recreational water-board session in Guantanamo Bay.