Detroit, once the envy of many, has become the garbage bin of the billionaire Koch brothers. Koch Carbon is owned by David and Charles Koch, the wealthy conservative industrialists. One of the unsightly byproducts of oil production is petroleum coke. Residents of Detroit are no strangers to abuse by large corporations. That is perhaps why the Koch brothers felt like it was a good plan to store a three-story high pile of petroleum coke near the Detroit River. Ah, environmental racism at its finest.
Petroleum coke (petcoke) isn’t the best form of fuel, that’s why the U.S. doesn’t use it. In America, we prefer the high grade crude oil, that doesn’t stop the U.S. from exporting it overseas though. In fact, U.S. refiners provide over one-half of all petcoke traded in the global market, most if it is purchased by China. Given China’s lax environmental regulation, it’s not a huge surprise that they would be interested in using this product.
The petcoke currently spanning one city block in Detroit isn’t from the U.S., nope it’s actually from the oil sands of Canada as mined by Marathon Oil. Canada gets the bitumen from the oil sands, the refining process leaves behind the solid crystalline compound that we call petcoke. Canada doesn’t know what to do with it, they don’t want to use it because it’s a highly inefficient source of fuel, so instead they have 79.8 million tons of it stockpiled.
Image via: U.S. Energy Information Administration
Kerry Satterthwaite, an analyst on petroleum coke explains the product this way, “It is worse than a byproduct. It’s a waste byproduct that is costly and inconvenient to store, but effectively costs nothing to produce.”
The Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t allow for petcoke to be burned anywhere in the U.S. so why the hell is there a giant heaping pile of it in Detroit? Michigan state representative Rashida Tlaib wants to know the same thing, “What is really, really disturbing to me is how some companies treat the city of Detroit as a dumping ground. Nobody knew this was going to happen.”
Photo via: MichiganRadio.Org
Why is Detroit treated like this? It’s not anything new. While most of us don’t have to deal with the ugly truth about our energy consumption, low-income communities of color have made popular dumping grounds. That’s environmental racism. Marathon Oil has a long and disturbing history with the city of Detroit.
In 2010, Michigan’s most polluted zip code, 48217 began noticing something was really wrong. Residents began complaining of a strong smell coming from their basements and sewers. No one listened, not until the press came along anyway. Hydrogen-sulfur was seeping up from the sewers. The fumes were so pervasive that it had discolored painted walls of homes, and prompted the growth of unknown substances on furniture. An examination of fumes showed twenty different toxic gases emanating from one house. Marathon Oil responded by purchasing thirteen homes in the area. This is one small example of the treatment the residents of Detroit have come to expect from the oil industry.
If you think this event is isolated, it’s not. If you think that this couldn’t happen in your community, you’re wrong. The Keystone XL Pipeline would bring even more of this waste into America. Who knows, maybe it’s all worth it to you ... you know, for a few thousand jobs.