Directly across the Illinois border from Chicago stands British Petroleum’s Whiting Oil Refinery in Whiting, Indiana and this huge facility creates petcoke, which in turn creates a bunch of problems in Chicago, problems that only get magnified by the involvement of the Koch Brothers and the lack of involvement by Chicago Mayor, Rahm Emanuel…
Yeah – BP, Rahm and the Kochs.
What a clusterfuck of a combination and what a typical addition to the horrible legacy of British Petroleum.
I mean, it was just this week that BP, the “Make it Right in the Gulf” company filed an appeal to the US Supreme Court to try and weasel out of the Deepwater Horizon settlements, agreed to quite some time ago down on the Gulf Coast and like theose shenanigans down there, up here in Chicago, BP continues with in its irresponsibe ways. After a 3.6 billion dollar expansion that tripled the refining capacity for Whiting, BP’s begun buying up property in Marktown, a 130 year old town originally built to house steel workers’ families and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. And whereas BP says they are just trying to increase the green space around the massive refinery (green space, really) others say BP is trying to shield itself from future liabilities the refinery could pose to town residents, living so close and all. Then there was that oil spill into Lake Michigan back in March, occurring just seven miles from the intake valve that supplies seven million Chicago residents with drinking water. BP initially low-balled their estimate of spilled oil, but they later doubled the actual figure (doesn’t that sound fucking familiar) and in response to the spill, Congressman yelled, BP placated and guys in white suits laid boom and cleaned (again, so very familiar).
But really, the latter two were just the warm-up for the big petroleum coke problem, which of course begs the question for those unfamiliar, what the hell is petcoke?
Well, petroleum coke is a byproduct of the process that removes heavy crude from those ever-famous Canadian tar sands, and petcoke can be burned as fuel. It’s high in heavy metals and has been compared to coal, “only dirtier,” and thanks to British Petroleum’s refinery there are mountains of this shit in Southeast Chicago, right in the city, right by residential neighborhoods, parks and schools and when the wind blows, this stuff gets blown all over said neighborhoods.
And it turns out British Petroleum is the preeminent petcoke dealer in the greater Chicagoland area and their main buyer? Why that’s a corporation called KCBX Terminals, a company owned by none other than the Koch Brothers.
That’s right, British Petroleum and the Koch Brothers…what could possible go wrong?
According to the people who live around KCBX Terminals, much is going wrong and they are understandably upset. They report having to keep windows closed against petcoke dust and particles, about finding picnics covered with the black stuff on windy days, or on their hanging clothes, or on windows and outside walls…or their lungs, and there are quite a few concerns about asthma and other breathing problems this petcoke could be causing.
A member of National Nurses United, Rolanda Watson-Clark had this to say:
“Petcoke contains a mix of chemicals including heavy metals, sulfur, carbon and volatiles, but even if you set the chemical aside — the dust particle size is also a killer…the small particles can get deep into the lungs and possibly the bloodstream, leading to problems like aggravated asthma, decreased lung function, non-fatal heart attacks and other negative health effects…while we are glad that the city council took some measures to curb the effects of these petcoke piles, we believe that our patients and communities can’t afford to wait two years for the relief.”
Yeah…they can’t wait two years.
Wait, what does she mean by that…two years?
Well, when Chicago residents in the affected neighborhoods started to tell their stories back in February, Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago came out big, he came out swinging, all declarative statements and such, pointed at the likes of the Koch Brothers KCBX Terminals. He said things like:
“Through the regulations we’re going to put in, it’s going to be very expensive to operate here and therefore they are going to choose to leave…we’re going to make sure the ordinance puts up a ‘not wanted’ sign in the City of Chicago as it relates to pet coke.”
Oh yes, he did…how definitive.
He then went on to propose an ordinance to the city council that would prohibit new petcoke and coal facilities from Chicago while at the same time, banning the expansion of existing facilities. This would have applied to any operations that processed, transported, stored or handled the stuff.
Oh yes, he did again…how declarative.
And it was this ordinance the council was supposed to vote on last March, but then the ordinance got delayed, and then in April the ordinance was simply replaced. Yes replaced…at the last minute, John Pope, Alderman of the 10th Ward (where the offending companies are located) replaced the definitive, declarative ordinance with a substitute nobody had seen before and this one wasn’t quite so ironclad as the one Rahm had been touting a few months prior. The new ordinance permits companies that use petcoke to set up shop and/or expand the places they already have, which means that larger facilities that burn petcoke and coal are free to go on as before, which of course means neighborhood residents are free to go on breathing this shit, also, as before. And when it comes to big storage facilities like KCBX Terminals, even though they have been ordered to enclose their huge piles of this poison, the ordinance gives them two full years to do it…
Two years, that’s what Rolanda Watson-Clark meant, two more years of this shit blowing across playgrounds, schools and residential neighborhoods. Rahm has apparently realized none of the people in these neighborhoods were going to vote for him anyway and for that matter, neither will the Koch Brothers. Turns out they’re upset about the two years too, among other restrictions and are now contemplating a lawsuit against the city. If they absolutely have to enclose these mountains of toxins, they want four years to do it. Oh, and the thirty foot height limit for the piles of petcoke? Too low, way too low, they want 45 feet, because why not?
So this is where we are in Chicago right now:
British Petroleum tripled the capacity of their Whiting Oil Refinery, is spilling oil into Lake Michigan, is buying out a historic town for “green space” all while producing enormous amounts of petcoke, a dusty toxic byproduct that is even dirtier to burn for fuel than coal. To the Koch Brothers, petcoke is not merely pollution, it is a product to buy en masse and store in residential neighborhoods while looking to sell it for profit. Other factories on the south side of Chicago are planning to use it to fuel their operations, leading to more pollution and more storage and the mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel though originally all definitive and declarative, saying he was going to run these companies out of business by way of expensive regulation for the sake of his constituents’ health, switched the bill at the last minute, gutting the ordinance’s effectiveness and giving the Koch Brothers two more years to poison the south side of Chicago, while the Koch Brothers…well, they feel two is not nearly enough time and want four.
Oh, and British Petroleum just keeps making this shit, because hey, who fucking cares about people and their families, right right?
Right, now that the news cameras have long since gone, BP doesn’t seem to care about those on the Gulf Coast anymore, so why should Chicago families be any different? Did I mention that also this week, a new study came out pointing to evidence that shows the damage to the Gulf is likely far worse than previously thought? Uh-huh, researchers found partially dead, deep sea coral reefs further and deeper than any other damaged reefs previously discovered…though BP was quick to point out that there is not conclusive proof…though the researchers were then quick to point out that oil found on the dead reef was the same oil from the spill…to which BP yelled “Mulligan!” and grabbed the next plane for Russia…which might suggest they are not properly concerned with the general welfare of, anything but their bottom line and certainly not with what others are doing with the petroleum coke they sell, and certainly, certainly not where these people might be storing it in Chicago.
It would in fact seem, none of these parties are properly concerned about any of this shit and after all, I’m sure that both BP and the Koch Brothers have well paid scientists who will claim (the world is flat) that not only is petroleum coke not toxic, but that it isn’t spreading anywhere.
Of course not.
And all that leads to just one conclusion for this writer, which would be to agree completely with the initial push by residents, nurses and activists after the mountains of petcoke first started climbing on the city’s South Side: petcoke needs to be banned from inside the Chicago city limits. For BP and the Kochs, it would appear petcoke is mostly about profit and rationalizations, and if Rahm Emanuel really wants to stand for something bigger than that, if he really decides to care about the residents of Chicago’s Southeast side, he would do something about all of this, something meaningful, something now. Fuck your two years. Chicago needs more than empty words and bullshit rhetoric from a failed mayor. Chicago deserves more. Rahm should do what’s right for the city and stop the Koch Brothers and British Petroleum at the Illinois border.
Have a nice day.