Thanks to BP, Rahm and the Kochs, Chicago Developing a Serious Petcoke Problem…

The not-so-secret stash...BP makes it, The Koch Brothers deal it, Mayor Rahm still not ready to go inpatient...
The not-so-secret stash…BP makes it, the Koch Brothers deal it, but Mayor Rahm still not ready to go inpatient…

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.


BP: A history of disaster, a culture of empty words

Thunder Horse Rig - Almost a Disaster

A great article in the New York Times explores BP’s track record of disaster, safety violations, and maximum profits at high risk, all the while claiming safety is their number one priority. Much like the talking head politicians on Sunday morning talk-shows, or television and radio programs by your Glenn Becks, Rush Limbaugh’s and Sean Hannity’s, Tony Hayward seems to believe that just because you say something, and say it often, it will be true. In a recent memorandum to his employees that touched on BP’s improving safety record, Tony claimed, “This (Deepwater Horizon BP Catastraphuk) accident has been a terrible exception to that trend and we must learn the lessons from it, but at the same time, it does not invalidate all the hard work you have put in to improve our safety standards around the world. Safety is our first priority. It will remain so.”

First priority? Jesus, I’d hate to see what might happen if it was your second or third. Problem is Tony, a number of facts kind of get in the way of your memorandum, consider:

March 23rd, 2005, at their Texas City Refinery an explosion killed 15 and injured 170. Two months before the accident, a consulting firm named the Telos Group hired to examine conditions at the plant had this to say “We have never seen a site where the notion ‘I could die today’ was so real.” An investigation after the explosion found more than 300 safety violations and BP paid 21 million in fines. Four years later, OSHA inspected the same plant at Texas City and this time, found more than 700 safety violations; BP was ordered to pay 87 million in fines this time, a judgment currently under appeal.

2005: Another oil rig, the Thunder Horse in the Gulf of Mexico almost sank, caused by an improperly installed check valve. When the rig heated up during a hurricane, instead of water being pumped out, the rig flooded, listed dangerously and almost sank. While BP was repairing the damages, they discovered ominous cracks and breaks in the welding throughout the platform caused by bad performance and previously missed. Had the well been started, the cracks would have broken and oil would have poured into the Gulf. Yeah, that’s right: Deepwater Horizon would have been the second time BP did this to the Gulf of Mexico.

2006: In Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, 267,000 gallons oil leaked from BP’s pipelines, the worst spill on Alaska’s north slope in history. BP paid 20 million dollars in fines.

March, 2010: OSHA found 62 violations in an Ohio BP refinery.

May 25th, 2010: BP created the third largest spill on the Trans-Alaska pipeline system, caused by a power failure; it dumped 200,000 gallons of oil.

And lest we forget:

April 20th, 2010: Deepwater Horizon explodes…11 dead and on Day 84, still going strong.

Deepwater Horizon - the Legend - the Champion

There are different takes on the culture and policies of the company of course – BP’s, and everybody else’s.

In the article, BP Public Relations guru, Scott Dudley is quoted, saying it was unfair to blame cultural failings at BP for the string of accidents, “Everyone realized we had to operate safely and reliably, particularly in the U.S., to restore a reputation that was damaged by the accident at Texas City,” he said. “So I don’t accept, and have not witnessed, this cutting of corners and the sacrifice of safety to drive results.”

But as I mentioned, not everybody feels the same:

“Senior management told us they are very serious about safety, but we observed that they haven’t translated their words into safe working procedures and practices, and they have difficulty applying the lessons learned from refinery to refinery or even from within refineries,” said David Michaels, an OSHA administrator.

Congressional Representative, Henry Waxman, whose committee is investigating the Deepwater Horizon accident, also has a different view than BP. When Mr. Hayward testified a month ago, Waxman had this to say “There is a complete contradiction between BP’s words and deeds. You were brought in to make safety the top priority of BP. But under your leadership, BP has taken the most extreme risks.” “BP cut corner after corner to save a million dollars here and a few hours there,” Mr. Waxman said. “And now the whole Gulf Coast is paying the price.”

And now, British Petroleum is expanding their refinery at Whiting, Indiana which already has had hundreds of violations; they are trying to get permission to do both directional drilling under Lake Michigan and exploratory drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Bully…what me, worry?

Read the article:

At BP, a History of Boldness and Costly Blunders – New York Times – Sarah Lyall, Clifford Krauss and Jad Mouawad

And have a nice day…

Hey Chicago – BP’s already spilling into Lake Michigan

No Swimming Allowed...again?

Good morning Chicago!

Were you aware British Petroleum, scourge of the south is closer to home than many of you may realize? Yes-sir, they have been operating the fourth largest oil refinery adjacent to Lake Michigan for years, and dumping pollution into the lake for just as long. The Whiting Refinery, located in Whiting, Indiana is perilously close to the drawing point for the entire city of Chicago’s water supply, and this huge complex is currently in the middle of a 3.4 billion dollar expansion that will dump 54% more ammonia and 35% percent more suspended solids, including such toxins as lead, benzine, nickel and mercury into Lake Michigan.

That’s right! You lucky bastards! And there’s more, much more!

This refinery is simply bursting with fun facts!

in 1995, the EPA ordered British Petroleum to only discharge as much as 8/100th’s of a pound of mercury into the lake annually, citing this as the safest allowable level, but then turned around and gave them an exemption from this rule which allowed them to drop in as much as 2 pounds per year and 15 years later, BP is still operating under this exemption. The expiration date is 2012, right when the new expansion will be complete. So why the big revamp? Well, it’s being done so BP can refine even greater amounts of Canadian shale.  The Canadian government has refused permission for BP to refine it at the site of the mine so BP went off to America where the laws are far friendlier to oil companies, Indiana especially. Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan all fought to stop it, with only Indiana providing friendly ground, stating that it would provide 80 more jobs. The Mayor of Waukegan IL, Richard Hyde objected, stating, “How did they get a permit to dump into the lake in the first place? How does anybody get a permit to dump into the lake?”

Well Richard, probably want to ask the EPA and good ol’ GW, have a beer with him while ya talk.

In response to questions about the safety of the water, British Petroleum has said Chicago’s water is safe for drinking, and though they could try even harder to clean it up, this would cost more, “Spending more money to try to purify waste water even more does not guarantee that the discharge will get any cleaner,” a BP official said.


BP and Indiana regulators say the Whiting project will cut the amount of air pollution the refinery emits. But even with various improvements in the last decade, the refinery is the sixth-largest source of industrial air pollution in the Chicago area. The 246 tons of airborne chemicals and heavy metals emitted by the refinery in 2007, the last year for which figures are available, included toxic benzene, ammonia and mercury.

“BP needs to come clean about what this expansion really will mean for clean air and public health,” said Meleah Geertsma, a staff attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

And it isn’t just the water everyone should be concerned about…the pollutions is also in the air. In the past three years, the EPA has cited BP several times for violating the Clean Air Act. The company has acknowledged that for the last six years it violated limits on benzene, a volatile chemical linked to leukemia and other health problems. According to BP, heat-trapping pollution from the refinery is expected to rise 40 percent when the expansion is done, an amount equivalent to adding 320,000 cars to the nation’s highways.

Recently, Obama has decided to crack down on BP and last year he ordered a review of the whole permit process, and ordered studies done to define the impact of the expansion.

Another study, perfect.

But this isn’t all BP has in store for you, citizens around Lake Michigan. British Petroleum has been fighting for years to undergo directional drilling to get at oil deposits underneath the Great Lakes. Directional drilling would involve drilling straight down near the shore, then continue at a diagonal angle under the lake. BP says it is safe; it is onshore so there is no chance for a leak into the lakes, but environmentalists disagree, wondering what the effect would be to empty out a pressurized depository under the Great Lakes.

BP doesn’t have to wonder, they are confident.

Confident like they were before Deepwater Horizon, or confident like they are now?

Currently there is a ban against such drilling, but environmental analyst for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Russ Harding went on record saying the ban should be lifted, “What you’re doing is accessing those reserves that are thousands of feet underneath that continuous cap of rock…if anything, you would be relieving any pressure if there was ever seismic activity.” Course, the Mackinac Center is a right-wing think tank, some of their representatives having appeared on Glenn Beck’s show. In another paper Russ wrote for the Mackinac website, he discusses the oil spill in the Gulf, stating that environmental regulations are too complex to be enforced and the only effective check on the compliance of corporations is their company’s survivability. Russ apparently believes regulations should be lessened, removed, not made more stringent. Corporations will recognize if they don’t function safely, there companies will be in danger. Shell Oil obviously has learned their lesson from BP’s catastraphuk, in precisely the same way BP learned from the Exxon Valdez and went to great lengths to make their drilling platforms safe for workers and the environment.


Eat it Russ, the last creature we need weighing in on this is another former lobbyist, you know, cause you guys never have an agenda.

Chicago, BP has established its parasitic tentacles within your host. They have promised to lower the levels of emission and make sure your drinking water is safe. They have assured the Great Lakes region nothing would ever go wrong if they horizontally drill under Lake Michigan. They have your best interests at heart. They recognize that in order for their operations to work, everyone must work together, as a team, openly and honestly.

So relax:

If you can’t trust these lying bastards who can you trust?

Have a nice day.

Some source material from BP’s Assault on the Great Lakes and the Chicago Tribune