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Petroleum Coke: Industry and Environmental Issues


In early 2013, media outlets around Detroit, Michigan began publishing stories about large piles\r of petroleum coke stored along the Detroit Riverfront. Petroleum coke (petcoke) is a blackcolored\r solid composed primarily of carbon, and may contain limited amounts of elemental forms\r of sulfur, metals and non-volatile inorganic compounds. Petcoke is essentially chemically inert.\r Petcoke exposure is considered to pose few human health or environmental risks, but may present\r significant nuisance concerns. The material in Detroit was the byproduct of the nearby Marathon\r Refinery\'s processing of heavy crude oils derived, in part, from Canadian oil sands deposits. The\r situation gained national attention with the publication of an article in the New York Times ("A\r Black Mound of Canadian Oil Waste Is Rising over Detroit," New York Times, May 17, 2013).\r The piles of petcoke sparked local concerns over the potential impacts of the material on human\r health and the environment, and whether these concerns were adequately addressed by local,\r state, and federal regulations. As petroleum refining is a nationwide commercial industry, these\r concerns may arise in other regions.\r Petcoke is a co-product of several distillation processes used in refining heavy crude oil. Nearly\r half of U.S. petroleum refineries (56 or more) use a coking process to convert heavy crude oils\r into refined petroleum products, and more refineries may follow suit to take advantage of the\r supply of heavy crude oils from Canada\'s oil sands projects. Although it is a refining co-product,\r petcoke has economic value as both a heating fuel and raw material in manufacturing. In 2012,\r the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that U.S. refineries produced in excess of 56\r million metric tons of petcoke, of which 80% was exported.


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