photo by Luke White
Petcoke comes in two varieties, green and cooked. Green petcoke is the material that is transported from Whiting to the terminals on the Calumet River. When that material is burned to make things like processed aluminum and cement, it’s declared cooked. Many factories around the country use petcoke of either variety in small amounts.It is consumed at the highest rates by aluminum smelting plants and by factories that produce bricks. Most of the United States’ petcoke output is sent overseas, however—typically to places like Japan, India and China, where regulations on pollution are not as stringent. In the first quarter of 2012, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, those three countries accounted for over a third of U.S. petcoke exports.The oil sand are just one more example of how hard we are working to quench our thirst for oil. The pet coke piles are another example of how Koch Industries will be involved in anything to make a buck. The fugitive emissions in Chicago are just like those in Detroit and near other refineries around the country. Just remember, the fiction of eternal growth has been undermined by reality.
In the early part of the twentieth century, petcoke was considered a waste product from the fuel-refining process. But since the thirties, petroleum coke has been burned as a secondary fuel that can be yielded by refining crude oil in a certain manner. It is most analogous to steam coal in function, yet it can contain as much as ten times more sulfur and release over fifty percent more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere....
In 2011, the U.S. produced close to sixty-two million tons of petcoke, and almost forty million tons of that was exported, according to a report from Roskill. The report estimates current global production at one hundred million metric tons each year, and predicts that the world will produce 170 million metric tons in 2016.
Nearly every manufacturing process has its byproducts, but petroleum coke, or petcoke, is also a byproduct of the present moment in climate policy. As more and more oil flows south from Canada—and with the possible introduction of hundreds of thousands more barrels each day with the completion of the Keystone XL pipeline’s fourth phase—the output of petcoke from the nation’s refineries has doubled since 1999, to 180,000 tons a day, according to the same report from Oil Change International.
Canada’s bituminous sands, in Alberta, produce oil that is called dark, or sour, in the petroleum industry. Formed in the Cretaceous Period, between 140 and 60 million years ago, the sands have been estimated to hold about 169 billion retrievable barrels, which amounts to just nine percent of the total barrels of bitumen estimated to lie below the boreal forest.
The sands are second only to the Arabian Peninsula in petroleum reserves, though the liquid they produce is a mixture of petroleum, sand, and water, and is harder and more costly to refine than oil that comes from either Saudi Arabia or Texas. According to the report from Oil Change International, processing oil that is heavily laden with bitumen yields double the amount of petcoke obtained from refining light oil.