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Midwest Oil Refining Waste Spreading to the South

The BP refinery in Whiting, Ind. is no longer sending petcoke to South Chicago, but environmentalists are keeping an eye on where it's heading now. (iStockphoto)
The BP refinery in Whiting, Ind. is no longer sending petcoke to South Chicago, but environmentalists are keeping an eye on where it's heading now. (iStockphoto)
December 30, 2015

CHICAGO - Earlier this year, BP announced it would stop sending petcoke waste to a dumping site in Chicago. But now tons of the oil-refining waste is on the move across the country from a BP facility in Whiting, Indiana, and the Natural Resources Defense Council is watching.

The group worked with people who live along the Calumet River in South Chicago to keep the waste out of their neighborhoods. Petroleum coke or petcoke is more than 90 percent carbon, and Josh Mogerman, deputy director of national media with the NRDC, says 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," says Mogerman. "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."

The petcoke waste is now being moved along the Ohio River, including to a coal-handling facility in Paducah, Kentucky, and an export facility in Newport News, Virginia.

Mogerman says 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 says 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, and those are things that I think need to change," Mogerman says. "The public needs to be safeguarded from this problem that's just getting worse, not better."

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

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - IL