Western Kentucky to Receive Oil Refining Waste

Jan 2, 2016

A Canadian freighter prepares to take on a load of petroleum coke from the U.S. side of the Detroit River.
Credit Windsor Star

Tons of oil-refining waste known as petcoke is on the move from Indiana across the country, including to far western Kentucky.

The Natural Resources Defense Council has been keeping an eye on the transport of the toxic dust since a BP refinery in northwest Indiana announced earlier this year that it would stop sending its petroleum coke to a dump site in south Chicago.

Some of the petcoke now is being shipped to a coal-handling facility along the Ohio River near Paducah, said Josh Mogerman, NRDC deputy director of national media, who added that he thinks people there should do what Chicago did - fight back.

"There's not a lot of regulation on this stuff, to let the public know where it's going and how it's being stored," he said, "and those are things that I think need to change. The public needs to be safeguarded from this problem that's just getting worse, not better."

Mogerman said the refinery also is shipping, trucking and using trains to move the tar-sands waste to an export facility in Newport News, Va. BP has said it's working to avoid, minimize and mitigate environmental impacts in places where it does business, but Mogerman said petcoke is nasty wherever it ends up. When used as a fuel, it burns hotter and emits more carbon dioxide than coal.

Facing pushback, BP agreed to stop dumping waste from its Whiting, Ind., refinery at a site along the Calumet River in south Chicago. Mogerman said the toxic dust can end up on homes, lawns and cars in nearby neighborhoods.

"This material gets airborne very easily," he said, "and raises significant concerns about air quality and particulate matter - that's the little, tiny bits of soot that can get stuck in people's lungs and have very serious health problems."