All these past months I have been on a tirade against the Keystone XL pipeline partly because the dang thing would run thousands of miles across the country…risking any number of fragile local eco-systems…with the resulting fuels exported around the world from the gulf refineries…with only a small group of Americans actually benefiting…with the major profits staying with big oil. I have often suggested that if the resulting fuels were going to stay in the US as many proponents of the pipeline have continually insisted…that it would help make the US energy independent…well I just thought the pipeline should terminate at refineries in the upper Midwest where the fuels could actually be used.
But that whole argument on BOTH SIDES is simply a shell game…the reason the tar sand oils need to travel to the gulf coast is only partly on account of exporting the refined fuels…what is more important is being able to readily export the dirty waste petroleum coke that results from tar sand oil refining…a waste byproduct so vile that it can’t be burned in the US…and avoid the ‘issues’ that Koch Carbon is currently experiencing in Detroit!
The company sells the high-sulfur, high-carbon waste, usually overseas, where it is burned as fuel.
The coke comes from a refinery alongside the river owned by Marathon Petroleum, which has been there since 1930. But it began refining exports from the Canadian oil sands — and producing the waste that is sold to Koch — only in November.
“What is really, really disturbing to me is how some companies treat the city of Detroit as a dumping ground,” said Rashida Tlaib, the Michigan state representative for that part of Detroit. “Nobody knew this was going to happen.” Almost 56 percent of Canada’s oil production is from the petroleum-soaked oil sands of northern Alberta, more than 2,000 miles north.
An initial refining process known as coking, which releases the oil from the tarlike bitumen in the oil sands, also leaves the petroleum coke, of which Canada has 79.8 million tons stockpiled. Some is dumped in open-pit oil sands mines and tailing ponds in Alberta. Much is just piled up there.
Detroit’s pile will not be the only one. Canada’s efforts to sell more products derived from oil sands to the United States, which include transporting it through the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, have pulled more coking south to American refineries, creating more waste product here.
Coke, which is mainly carbon, is an essential ingredient in steelmaking as well as producing the electrical anodes used to make aluminum.
While there is high demand from both those industries, the small grains and high sulfur content of this petroleum coke make it largely unusable for those purposes, said Kerry Satterthwaite, a petroleum coke analyst at Roskill Information Services, a commodities analysis company based in London.
“It is worse than a byproduct,” Ms. Satterthwaite said.“It’s a waste byproduct that is costly and inconvenient to store, but effectively costs nothing to produce.”
Murray Gray, the scientific director for the Center for Oil Sands Innovation at the University of Alberta, said that about two years ago, Alberta backed away from plans to use the petroleum coke as a fuel source, partly over concerns about greenhouse-gas emissions. Some of it is burned there, however, to power coking plants.
The Keystone XL pipeline will provide Gulf Coast refineries with a steady supply of diluted bitumen from the oil sands. The plants on the coast, like the coking refineries concentrated in California to deal with that state’s heavy crude oil, are positioned to ship the waste to China or Mexico, where it is burned as a fuel. California exports about 128,000 barrels of petroleum coke a day, mainly to China.
Tony McCallum, a spokesman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, played down the impact of Keystone XL. “Most of the Canadian oil earmarked for the U.S. Gulf Coast is to replace declining heavy oil imports from Mexico and Venezuela that produces the same amount of petcoke, so it doesn’t create a new issue,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Much of the new coking investment has gone into refineries in the Midwest to allow them to take advantage of the oil sands. BP, the British energy company, is building what it describes as the second-largest coke refinery in Whiting, Ind. When completed, the unit will be able to process about 102,000 barrels of bitumen or other heavy oils a day.
And what about the leftover coke? The Environmental Protection Agency will no longer allow any new licenses permitting the burning of petroleum coke in the United States. But D. Mark Routt, a staff energy consultant at KBC Advanced Technologies in Houston, said that overseas companies saw it as a cheap alternative to low-grade coal. In China, it is used to generate electricity, adding to that country’s air-quality problems. There is also strong demand from India and Latin America for American petroleum coke, where it mainly fuels cement-making kilns.
“I’m not making a value statement, but it comes down to emission controls,” Mr. Routt said. “Other people don’t seem to have a problem, which is why it is going to Mexico, which is why it is going to China.”
“One man’s junk is another man’s treasure,” he said.
One Man’s Junk Is Another Man’s Treasure…but no matter where they burn it eventually we all get to breathe it! And just one more reason to refuse to build the Keystone XL!