The air smells of burning rubber, and the sound of roaring engines is deafening. Homages to petroleum are everywhere: rows of semi-trucks and trailers, stacks of thick smooth tires and the stars of the show – bright sleek race cars emblazoned with the names of sponsors like Rope, Soap ‘N Dope, an oilfield supply company. Just outside the Chicagoland Speedway, thousands of automobiles are parked amongst bales of hay on grassy fields.
“Stunning, just stunning, just stunning,” said Sheilah Garland, shaking her head as she stared out the window of the bus rolling along a dirt road next to towering black piles of petroleum coke on Chicago’s Southeast Side.
As an organizer of National Nurses United, a labor union representing about 6,000 nurses in Chicago and 185,000 nationwide, Garland has seen a lot. She represents nurses working in grueling and traumatic situations on a daily basis. And the union has picked fights with powerful politicians, including former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
But Garland was shocked by the piles of petcoke, about six stories high, located across the street from homes. She was also perturbed to see employees walking onsite without respiratory masks.
The nurses union has joined local residents’ fight to get petcoke transportation and storage banned in Chicago. They see it as a serious public health issue and part of their larger social justice advocacy mission.
Feeling that elected officials have betrayed them in the battle over piles of petroleum coke on the Southeast Side of Chicago, residents have vowed to take the fight to the streets and into their own hands.
In unseasonably frigid temperatures at a local park Tuesday evening, they discussed a march planned for April 26, ongoing protests and the idea of boycotting BP, whose Whiting, Indiana refinery is the source of the “petcoke” piling up along the Calumet River.
Activism by local residents catapulted the petcoke piles into national prominence last fall, with Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, local Alderman John Pope and other elected officials promising to crack down on petcoke storage by companies including Koch Industries subsidiary KCBX.
In February, Emanuel and Pope announced an ordinance that would have prevented the expansion of petcoke storage and imposed requirements on existing piles.
©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Blake Sobczak
Rail-bound crude traffic has faced intense public scrutiny and hours of delays in Chicago, the nation’s busiest freight rail hub.
Frank Patton thinks he has found a way around all the fuss — specifically, a roughly 150-mile-long way around the city itself.
VICE News has produced this 15-minute documentary on the controversy over storing petroleum coke on the banks of Chicago’s Calumet River.
Related content from Midwest Energy News:
First it was Detroit, now ‘PetKoch’ piling up in Chicago (Oct 14, 2013)
In Chicago, neighbors say petcoke rules full of loopholes (Jan 14, 2014)
BP faces tough questions from neighbors in Whiting, Indiana (Feb 14, 2014)
Representatives of Illinois’s coal, oil and gas, chemical, shipping and other industries on Wednesday denounced Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed emergency rules regarding the storage of petcoke – a byproduct of tar sands refining that is sold as fuel mostly to overseas customers.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency filed the proposed rules on January 16, and after an weeklong public comment period the Illinois Pollution Control Board will decide whether to adopt the rules. (UPDATE: The board rejected the rules on Thursday.)
Chicago elected officials have vowed to crack down on the growing piles of petcoke stored by a subsidiary of Koch Industries and another company along the Calumet River on the city’s far southeast side.
But at a public hearing Monday night, local residents made clear that they don’t trust the City Council or Mayor Rahm Emanuel to take meaningful action on the issue.
Alderman John Pope, who represents the Chicago neighborhoods most affected, and Ed Burke, a powerful alderman with an interest in clean air, have proposed two ordinances related to petcoke. One favored by Burke would ban petcoke storage in Chicago. The other, pushed by Pope, would impose site-specific regulations.
Emanuel last month rejected the idea of a citywide ban on petcoke storage, saying a state or federal solution is needed. On Monday, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn proposed emergency rules on petcoke storage statewide.
The proposed city rules would cover storage of solid bulk materials including petcoke, coal, ore and other materials used as fuel. Piles of salt, construction and demolition debris, waste and recycling material would not be subject to the regulations.
Look out the east side windows from the 12th floor of the historic Gage building in downtown Chicago, and you see Millennium Park and the glittering expanse of Lake Michigan.
Paradoxically, the view from the west side is also the lake’s blue waters. It throws the viewer for a loop, until you realize that you’re seeing the lake reflected in a neighboring sleek glass building.
This unexpected touch seems to symbolize the sense of unfettered possibility and imagination that developers are going for with this freshly painted orange and aqua space, that they hope will become a hive of entrepreneurship and innovation on the clean energy front.
It’s a former hat factory turned co-working space complete with minimalist offices and retro phone booths — lacking seats so that no one will linger inside too long. It’s meant to be something like 1871, Chicago’s hotshot digital co-working space and startup incubator.
Community activists on Chicago’s Southeast Side are always on the lookout for signs of new pollution, dumping or other threats to the environment and quality of life in this heavily industrialized swath of the city.
So members of the Southeast Environmental Task Force were highly disturbed earlier this year when, on a boat trip to check out other potential pollution sources, they saw towering mounds of fine, jet-black material lining the banks of the Calumet River.
Coal, crushed limestone, slag from steel mills and other bulk materials have long been stored along the river, shipped in and out on barges. But these piles, they suspected, were petroleum coke, or “petcoke,” the byproduct of refining heavy tar sands oil.
In July piles of petcoke made bi-national headlines as dark clouds swirled over the Detroit River by the Ambassador Bridge leading to Canada. That petcoke was from the Marathon Detroit Oil refinery, which has expanded to process tar sands oil.
In August, Southeast Chicago residents saw similar clouds themselves. One local resident posted a photo on Facebook after an August 30 wind storm, showing a billowing thick black haze.
There’s an adage attributed to self-help author Robin Sharma that “what gets measured gets improved.”
That’s the concept behind an energy efficiency bench-marking ordinance being considered in Chicago, similar to ones adopted in at least seven other major cities. The ordinance would require about 3,500 large residential, commercial, and municipal buildings to measure and report their energy use annually, with the information made public by the second year.
There would be no requirements that buildings improve energy efficiency, but studies have shown that taking measurements would likely result in substantial investments and energy efficiency improvements.