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BP Doubles Initial Size Estimate of Lake Michigan Oil Spill

7:37 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Three days after spilling crude oil into Lake Michigan, BP has doubled its spill estimate to between 470 and 1228 gallons. The leak happened at its refinery in Whiting, Ind.

Although some of the oil has been cleaned up, it’s unclear how much is left in the lake, a drinking water source for about seven million Chicagoans.

Located just across the Illinois-Indiana state border, Whiting is home to the sixth largest refinery in the U.S. The refinery just went through a $4 billion “modernization project,” giving it “the capability of processing up to about 85 percent heavy crude.” That’s up from its original 20 percent, says BP’s website.

“Frigid temperatures caused some of the oil to harden into a waxy consistency that made it easier to collect,” BP spokesman Scott Dean told The Chicago Tribune. “Crews used vacuum trucks to suck up any liquid oil that washed ashore.”

The day after the spill, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), as well as U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) issued press releases in which they pledged to hold BP accountable for the spill. Durbin and Kirk also wrote a follow-up letter to BP, requesting a meeting with BP.

“Any unanticipated spill is cause for concern, but given the Whiting refinery’s recent expansion of its operations to double the amount of heavy oil sands being processed, this spill raises questions about the long-term safety and reliability ofBP’s new, expanded production at Whiting,” they wrote.

Chicago Mayor (and President Obama’s former Chief-of-Staff) Rahm Emanuel had similar things to say.

“I expect a full accounting to the public,” said Emanuel. “I want a report on what happened, how it happened, why did it happen, how much happened and how do you prevent it from ever happening again.”

Though BP claims it’s “recovered the vast majority of oil that had been visible on the surface,” questions remain.

For one, what type of oil was spilled? The refinery processes tar sands bitumen, which sinks in freshwater, a point alluded to in Kirk and Durbin’s letter to BP.

Video Shows Cleanup Crew Offshore

According to a March 25 EPA press release, the “U.S. Coast Guard has flown over the area and has not observed any visible sheen.”

EPA has also deployed a “Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Team,” which consists of employees of the Coast Guard, EPA and BP. The team says it “saw minimal oiling of the shoreline and recommended a small manual removal crew conduct maintenance along the shoreline” and posted some pictures of its cleanup efforts online.

The EPA’s account has become the widely accepted one in local and national media. But a video placed on The Chicago Tribune’s website calls some of it into question.

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The Geopolitics of Energy: An Interview with Steve Horn

9:14 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from Frack the Media

If there is an up-and-coming investigative journalist to follow, it’s Steve Horn of DeSmog Blog. If you follow any of Frack The Media’s social media, you’ve been exposed to Steve. What draws us to Steve (and others like him) is his attention to detail surrounding the energy issue. It’s a multifaceted, highly complex and propagated geopolitical issue — regular reports often miss these intricacies (as mainstream media outlets tend to gloss over complex topics ). Long story short, we got to pick Steve’s brain and highlight some of the important investigative work he does.

Frack The Media: A lot of your reporting has focused on fracking and tar sands. What draws you to these particular issues?

Steve Horn: I focus on these issues for a number of reasons. Most importantly, the majority of the reporting on these issues by U.S. and Canadian reporters only grazes the surface, treating them as only environmental issues or only as energy issues. That’s not the case.

Given my academic background is in sociology and history and my keen interest in geopolitics, there is far more to these issues than meets the eye at face-value. I use my “sociological imagination,” as C. Wright Mills put it, when doing reporting on these issues. That means being an ecologist and looking at how the local interconnects with the global and looking at energy as not only an environmental issue, but also as a geopolitical issue.

In the case of fracking and tar sands, they’re the two biggest sources of energy that have transformed the U.S. and Canada into the “New Saudi Arabia” for oil and gas, huge players in the geopolitical “great game,” as Zbiginiew Brzezinski once put it. Not only are these important issues because they’re ravaging ecosystems and racing us to climate change catastrophe, but they’re also reshaping geopolitics as we know it.

There will still be wars for oil of course, as it’s a cornerstone of U.S. geopolitical planning. But given tar sands and fracking are both seen as political pawn chips on the “Grand Chessboard” to fend off Russian dominance of the global gas market and Saudi/Russian dominance of the global oil market, these issues aren’t going away anytime soon without a hell of a fight by grassroots activists, regardless of the idealism of some well-meaning environmentalists. That means busy times for an investigative journalist and endless stories to tell, an incredible time to be in the business to say the least.

FTM: You’ve reported on the industry influence of academic research on fracking (“frackademia”). Can you explain this issue and it’s significance?

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Tar Sands Coal Export Boom: Petcoke Exports Second Highest Ever in April

9:51 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Petroleum Coke

Petrocoke is a profitable and filthy byproduct of Tar Sands production.

With many eyes honed in on the Powder River Basin coal export battle in the Northwest, another coal export boom is unfolding on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Although no coal production is actually taking place here, a filthy fuel with even more severe climate impacts than coal is leaving port bound for foreign power plants.

Meet petroleum coke, or “petcoke,” what Oil Change International described in a Jan. 2013 report as “The Coal Hiding in the Tar Sands.”

Petcoke “is a byproduct of coking, a process that takes very heavy oil and produces gasoil (a precursor to diesel or vacuum gasoil) and naphtha,” Platts explains. ”The coke is used as a fuel for power plant, in a kiln in the production of concrete or, for some specialty grades, in the production of aluminum or other metals.”

As relayed by Platts, the Energy Information Agency (EIA) is reporting the U.S. exported the second-highest amount of petroleum coke in U.S. history in April. EIA’s April data show export levels of 17.78 million barrels, second only to Dec. 2011′s 20.44 million barrels of petcoke.

With the tar sands’ expansion has come an accompanying petcoke export boom of historical proportion.

“The US exported a record 184.17 million barrels of petroleum coke in 2012, a record up over 20 million barrels compared to 2010,” Platts explained.

According to the EIA report, China is the current top beneficiary of the U.S. petcoke export boom, importing 3.20 million barrels of petcoke in April, the third most it’s ever imported from the U.S.

China imported 4.93 million barrels of petcoke from the U.S. in Dec. 2011 and another 3.64 million barrels in Jan. 2013.

Climate Costs of Petcoke: Worse Than Coal

Petcoke, put bluntly, is dirtier than King Coal.

“Petcoke is over 90 percent carbon and emits 5 to 10 percent more CO2 than coal on a per-unit of energy basis when it is burned,” explains Oil Change International’s report. ”As petcoke has high energy content, every ton of petcoke emits between 30 and 80 percent more CO2 than coal, depending on the quality of the coal.”

Making matters worse, refineries nationwide have the capacity to manufacture petcoke, which could fuel a new global coal power plant boom.

“Of 134 operating U.S. refineries in 2012, 59 are equipped to produce petcoke including many of the largest refineries in the country,” wrote Oil Change International. ”The proven tar sands reserves of Canada will yield roughly 5 billion tons of petcoke – enough to fully fuel 111 U.S. coal plants to 2050.”

The Keystone XL Connection

If Keystone XL is built to full capacity, it “would fuel 5 coal plants and produce 16.6 million metric tons of CO2 each year,” according to Oil Change International’s report.

While Keystone XL is a tar sands crude export pipeline, it would also boost petcoke exports. Many petcoke refineries sit on the Gulf Coast, where the petcoke would then be exported to the global market.

“Nine of the refineries close to the southern terminus of Keystone XL have nearly 30 percent of U.S. petcoke production capacity, over 50,000 tons a day,” the report continues.

As the recent EIA report makes clear, the petcoke production boom and its accompanying petcoke export boom are the new elephant in the room in the debate over tar sands production, marketing, and most specifically, Keystone XL.

“Petcoke is a seldom discussed yet highly important aspect of the full impacts of tar sands production,” wrote Oil Change International. ”Factored into the equation, petcoke puts another strong nail in the coffin of any rational argument for the further exploitation of the tar sands.”

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