Fossil Fuels

Published on May 16th, 2014 | by Tina Casey


Chicago Nurses Vs. Koch Petcoke As Exports Climb

May 16th, 2014 by  

Holy axis of evil, Batman! A dramatic fossil fuel threefer is brewing in Chicago, as mountains of the carbon-saturated fuel petcoke have been piling up in the city at the Koch Industries subsidiary KCBX, and the main source of the petcoke happens to be BP. That’s the Gulf oil spill BP for those of you keeping score at home.

Public health issues related to the dust from the piles have drawn the attention of the labor union National Nurses United. Union members toured the piles on earlier this week and on Saturday May 17 they will join environmental organizations in a protest at the main source of the petcoke piles, a BP refinery in Whiting, Indiana.

US petcoke exports

US petcoke exports courtesy of US EIA.

Petcoke And Tar Sands Oil

The rumble in Chicago has been taking place as both US petcoke production and petcoke exports from the US are continuing a steady climb since the 1980’s.

As for why the US is producing more petcoke, the math is pretty simple. Petcoke is a byproduct of crude oil refining. The heavier the crude, the more petcoke is produced, which brings up the especially heavy tar sands oil. Keystone XL pipeline or not, more tar sands oil is being processed at US refineries.

Meanwhile the demand for petcoke in the US has been relatively flat, creating a massive bottleneck in the tar sands oil market. Fortunately, the export market for petcoke has taken up the slack, specifically in Asia.

The Koch Petcoke Problem

We first took note of the Koch petcoke problem back in January 2013, when a report commissioned by the group Oil Change International outlined how tar sands oil contributes to petcoke production.

More to the point, the report points out that another Koch-related company, Oxbow, is the largest petcoke trader in the world (more on that below).

It has also recently come to light that Koch has major holdings in tar sands fields in Canada, part of a long term investment in Canadian heavy oils that apparently has a 50-year history.

The increased production of petcoke poses a huge problem for climate change management, since petcoke has an even higher carbon content than coal.

The dust problem piles a local hazard onto the global warming issue. Aside from the dust problem posed by storing petcoke in the open, petcoke dust emissions from open rail cars is also an issue.

Wind Power And Petcoke Power

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. Two Koch brothers, Charles and David, have been in the limelight for the past couple of years, but there is a third brother, William, who doesn’t get that much attention.


A rare exception occurred back in 2012, in relation to the aforementioned petcoke-dealing Oxbow. Here’s a snip from a article detailing the dustup:

William Koch – the “other” Koch brother along with David and Charles – was recently sued by a former senior executive at his Oxbow Carbon & Minerals Inc. for false imprisonment.  The allegations are that Koch lured the former executive to his Colorado ranch and then held him against his will to intimidate him.  The executive was allegedly being pressured not to go public with concerns over an illegal tax avoidance scheme being pursued by Oxbow.

We bring that up because William has been the major funder behind efforts to block the new Cape Wind offshore wind farm off Cape Cod in Massachusetts, where William happens to own property. NIMBY, much?

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • Banned by Bob

    We should have a contest to see if Ms. Casey can write an article without mentioning a member if the Koch family.

    • Matthew

      We should have a contest to see how many days in a row the Caulk brothers can go without trying to screw our country and people for their own purposes.

      • Banned by Bob

        You might want to try hiring just a fraction of the people that Koch employs and see how that affects your view of the world.

      • Bob_Wallace

        I predict zero.

        I win.

  • This Koch bros intrigue thing just keeps getting better and better….Thanks Tina.

  • spec9

    Some class action lawyer needs to file a nuisance suit. Libertarians claim the courts should be used to protect environment so the Koch brothers should welcome such a lawsuit.

  • Michael Berndtson

    Illinois is becoming tar sands rail and pipeline junction. Transcanada Keystone XL (northern half)? Transchmanada. Enbridge lines from Superior Wisconsin to Chicagoland refineries are picking up the slack at a capacity of at least 1.5 million barrels per day (the entire Enbridge cross border system is rated at 2.5 million barrels per day). Petcoke is not only piling up from BP Whiting refinery, but Exxon Joliet and Citgo Lemont. And not to leave out the refinery in Wood River, IL. That one is the Koch family’s. The father built that one back in the day and spurred its multi generational wealth accumulation only eclipsed by Saudi families and Russian oligarchs.

    All these refineries have been or are being upgraded for Alberta tar sands diluted bitumen. Petcoke production will only increase. If you’re worried Illinois is the only beneficiary of tar sands and petcoke piles, or jealous, there’s two huge pipeline system modifications in progress from Flanagan, IL to Cushing, OK and Patoka, IL to the Gulf coast. The Flanagan to Cushing line alone will have a capacity of around 750,000 barrels per day.

    I almost forgot. Because there’s so much shale gas fracking producing natural gas liquids and light oil in Appalachia and soon Southern Illinois, there’s a pipeline system through Illinois under construction to send more diluent up to Alberta for pumping tar sands down.

    Speaking of Koch and the Russians (or Soviets):



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