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Indiana's Oil Refining Waste Heads to Kentucky, Virginia

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A petcoke ship docked on Chicago's southeast side. (Natural Resources Defense Council)
A petcoke ship docked on Chicago's southeast side. (Natural Resources Defense Council)
December 28, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS - Tons of oil-refining waste known as petcoke is on the move from Indiana across the country, and the Natural Resources Defense Council is watching. The group worked with people who live along the Calumet River in South Chicago, Ill., to keep a BP facility in Whiting, Ind., from dumping it near their neighborhoods.

Petroleum coke or "petcoke" is more than 90 percent carbon, and Josh Mogerman, NRDC deputy director of national media, said the toxic dust gets airborne and ends up everywhere - on homes, cars and yards, and in people's lungs, too.

"Can this stuff go to places that are not right on the edge of people's homes and parks, and schools? In Virginia, there seems to be real concern about this. Some of the communities near where this stuff is going are suffering from really, really high asthma rates."

Early this year, BP announced it would stop sending the waste to a dumping site in Chicago. Instead, it's now being moved along the Ohio River, including to a coal-handling facility in Paducah, Ky., and an export facility in Newport News, Va.

Mogerman said BP's tar-sand expansion produces three times more waste than it used to, and creates more petcoke than U.S. companies can use as a fuel source. He said it's being shipped, trucked and put on trains going to Kentucky and Virginia, and thinks residents of those states should do what Chicago did - fight back.

"There's not a lot of regulation on this stuff, to let the public know where it's going and how it's being stored," he said, "and those are things that I think need to change. The public needs to be safeguarded from this problem that's just getting worse, not better."

BP said it's working to avoid, minimize and mitigate environmental impacts in places where it does business, but Mogerman said petcoke is nasty wherever it ends up. When used as a fuel, it burns hotter and emits more carbon dioxide than coal.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - IN