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SUSTAINABLE CHICAGO Spring 2014
Large petcoke store piles across from Detroit’s
Riverwalk were ordered to be removed in August
2013
by the city’s mayor after large dark clouds
were documented as blowing across the river. Res-
idents who lived along the riverfront complained of
the dust entering their homes when a window or
door was opened, but later sited that this issue was
eliminated once the petcoke piles were removed.
The business that was storing the petcoke is now
seeking alternative materials that are denser to store
on that site.
California is currently the U.S.’s largest producer
of petcoke but they have little regulations concerning
the byproduct other than the state and federal reg-
ulations regarding burning it, which is not allowed
due to its high concentration of carbon dioxide emis-
sions. They are exporting their stock piles overseas,
with a majority of it going to China, where it is then
burned for electricity.
In West Virginia’s federal court, the largest pro-
posed settlement to date was filed on March 5th
against the nation’s largest coal producers for vio-
lating their water pollution permits. They breached
their pollution permits by discharging toxic waste
from mines and coal processing plants across wa-
terways in five Appalachian states. The settlement
states the payment of a $27.5
million fine, with half going to
the federal government and the
other half being divided among
Kentucky, Pennsylvania and
West Virginia. The settlement
also states that the mining facil-
ities will reduce their toxic dis-
charges by installing many
safeguarding measures including
the installations of wastewater
treatment systems for each of
their 104 mines and processing
plants. The estimated cost for
these improvements is $200
million.
Probably the most well-
known petcoke problem area is
Alberta, Canada. They are the
largest processor of oilsands, a
denser crude oil producing more
petcoke. The Canadian govern-
ment has been debating the benefits and costs—
both economic and environmental—of their rela-
tively new oil boom. Many of the economic benefits
have been proved, while many of the environmental
costs are just beginning to come to light as they
grapple with their own country’s versions of the Key-
stone Pipeline: the Energy East and Pacific Trails
pipelines. Their wide use of “tailing ponds,” artificial
reservoirs where petroleum byproducts are settled
out, has recently come under the scrutiny of many
residents and environmental activists for their con-
tinued seepage.
In seeing other area’s issues and their minimal
movement on either side to rectify the coexistence
argument, Chicago is poised to become a leader in
the global market of how to properly address the
needs of both industry and environment. Can the
local government and industries can work together
to find a solution to the pollution of the waterways
and the surrounding residential neighborhoods with-
out slighting their health concerns or the drinking
water source? If the environmentalists and con-
cerned residents can have their voices heard and
acted upon by government officials without the leg-
islation overreaching it’s regulations and devastating
many smaller businesses that rely upon the bulk
materials trade to keep afloat, then maybe the city
just might find a great solution in which other areas
in need can follow. So can they coexist? Only time
will tell.
Looking to others for examples
One of the petcoke piles along the Calumet River which has instigated
lawsuits and legislation.
Photos: Josh Mogerman