Durbin & Peters Introduce Bill to Study Effects of Petroleum Coke

[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Gary Peters (D-MI) introduced legislation today to address the concerns of petroleum coke on a national level and open the door for federal environmental safety regulations on the tar sands byproduct. The Petroleum Coke Transparency and Public Health Act of 2015 would for the first time require a federal study into the health and environmental impacts of pet coke. Based on the results of the study, the bill would also require federal safety rules for the storage and transportation of pet coke. Companion legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this year by U.S. Representative Robin Kelly (D-IL).


“As we continue to explore new methods of energy production, it is important that we understand the health and environmental impacts of those technologies,” said Durbin. “While we’ve made progress in limiting and containing pet coke on Chicago’s southeast side, we need to be sure it doesn’t land in another community’s backyard in Illinois or a nearby state. The comprehensive study of petroleum coke authorized by this bill can give us the information we need to continue expanding our energy economy while protecting our public health and environment.”


“In 2013, pet coke that was stored improperly along the Detroit River blew into nearby neighborhoods and threatened the health of our Great Lakes,” said Peters. “While those piles have since been removed, fully understanding the public health and environmental risks associated with pet coke is critical for protecting our communities from this crude oil waste that is exempt from many federal environmental regulations and standards. I’m proud to introduce this commonsense bill with Senator Durbin to develop strong, evidence-based rules for storing and transporting pet coke.”


Petroleum coke is a byproduct of refining crude oil into fuels such as gasoline and diesel. Recent expansion of refining capacity at a number of U.S. refineries, including facilities in the Great Lakes region, has increased the production of petroleum coke. The legislation introduced today is spurred in part by the storage of petroleum coke along waterways like the Detroit River in Michigan and the Calumet River in Illinois.


A three-story high pile of petroleum coke on the banks of the Detroit River in Michigan has raised public health and environmental concerns. Last year, the Southeast Side became an environmental battle zone as 10th Ward community activists protested against pet coke dust storms blowing across their neighborhoods from eight-story piles of the waste product stored on the banks of the Calumet River. As a result of the combined efforts of federal, state and city lawmakers, the pet coke piles have been reduced in size; an overhead sprinkler system was installed to help reduce the wind-blown dust particles; and EPA air-quality monitors were placed throughout the neighborhood. 


There has been limited review of petroleum coke’s potential health and environmental effects, and each state has different regulations for its storage and transportation. The bill introduced today seeks to fill in those gaps by requiring the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the public health and environmental impacts of petroleum coke production and use; an assessment of best practices for storing, transporting and managing the material; and an analysis of current and projected domestic production and use.