Oct 212013

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Nothing Goes Better With This Coke
Michael Hawthorne opens an informative Chicago Tribune story,

“Just south of the Chicago Skyway bridge, a dusty byproduct of the Canadian oil boom is piling up in huge black mountains along the Calumet River. More is on the way. A lot more. By the end of the year, the oil giant BP is expected to complete work on new equipment that will more than triple the amount of petroleum coke produced by its Whiting refinery on Lake Michigan. The project will turn the sprawling Indiana plant into the world’s second-largest source of petroleum coke, also known as petcoke, and Chicago into one of the biggest repositories of the high-sulfur, high-carbon waste.”

BP evades responsibility for dealing with this stuff by contracting out its movement and storage, taking advantage of more polluter friendly rules in Chicago. The owners of this service include the infamous mufti-billionaire Koch brothers. Their father was a charter member of the John Birch Society and one of the ways they carry on the ultra-right family tradition is pouring millions in to campaigns promoting global warming denial.

The complaints of neighbors of this petcoke mountain range demonstrate one of the grave environmental threats of Alberta tar-sands bitumen even before its release of greenhouse gas  when it is burned as a synthetic oil fuel produced by BP’s refinery. Similar protests in Detroit and Windsor led to an order by the bankrupt Motor City Mayor to remove piles Koch family business had collected from a Marathon refinery.

Because of the Clean Air Act, there is little use for petcoke in North America but the brothers Koch have been exporting a lot of the waste for industrial fuel in countries with more lax environmental rules–such as China, where  Harbin, with a population of eleven million, is today effectively shut down because particulate air pollution exceeds World Health Organization guidelines by 250 percent.

Hawthorne writes,

“Peggy Salazar of the Southeast Environmental Task Force noted that city officials have long promoted the area as showcase for green projects. A few blocks north of the petcoke piles, the city has given significant support to a developer who wants to turn the former U.S. Steel South Works site into a mecca for energy-efficient housing and businesses. ‘How is our neighborhood ever going to recover and attract jobs if these black clouds of dust keep blowing?’ said Salazar. ‘We shouldn’t have to live with this every day.’”

If the Keystone XL Pipeline is approved by President Obama, new petcoke mountains will arise near Gulf of Mexico refineries and ports.

Fortunately, the tar-sands producing the dirtiest of all fuels are mostly unique to Alberta. But exploitation of oil and gas trapped in shale deposits is booming world wide due to the development of what has come to be known as fracking. The environmental impact differs from Alberta’s and there are probably still some unforeseen consequences yet to be exposed. But enough is already known to justify calling an immediate halt. Jerry Silberman, a senior staff representative at the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses, has a good introductory piece surveying various problems in Labor Notes.

Fracking has propelled the North Dakota breadbasket in to the number two oil producing state. AP recently reported,

“When a pipeline rupture sent more than 20,000 barrels of crude spewing across a North Dakota wheat field, it took nearly two weeks for officials to tell the public about it…. it turned out to be one of the largest spills in North Dakota history–an estimated 20,600 barrels over 7.3 acres of land, or about the size of seven football fields….Kris Roberts, an environmental geologist with the North Dakota Health Department, said that while companies must notify the state of any spills, the state doesn’t have to release that information to the public. That’s not unusual in major oil-producing states: Alaska, Oklahoma and Texas also do not require the government to publicly report spills.”

The French equivalent of the Supreme Court has upheld a government ban on fracking. The process has been suspended in Germany awaiting action from a new coalition government being formed. And just this past week thousands demonstrated against fracking on both sides of the Atlantic. 

Ongoing protests including blocking of highways by the Elsipogtog First Nation against fracking start-ups in New Brunswick were violently attacked by the RCMP and solidarity demonstrations across Canada soon followed.

Reuters reported, “Thousands of Romanians protested on Saturday against plans by U.S. energy group Chevron to explore for shale gas in a poor eastern region and a Canadian company’s project to set up Europe’s biggest open cast gold mine in a Carpathian town.”

Documentary filmmaker and activist Josh Fox, who directed the Oscar-nominated film Gasland, has called out President Obama as AWOL on fracking. In an interview in Politico, he said,

“To ignore the largest grass-roots movement on the environment in several decades when you’re a president that was elevated by the grass-roots movement, when you are a president who was elected by those same people, that to me is an abdication of responsibility.”

Well said. Of course, grass-roots environmentalists are not the only supporters betrayed by the present resident of the White House. Workers, unionized and unorganized, have been taking a beating on many fronts from the “friend” they elected. Workers–and in the long run farmers as well–have a vital stake in the movements against fracking and the spread of dirty tar-sands  bitumen. And these struggles are part and parcel of the paramount challenge of climate change.

In Brief…
* Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 and SEIU Local 1021 reached a tentative agreement with Bay Area Rapid Transit on economic issues but couldn’t accept BART’s demand for sweeping work rule changes. After management rejected offers to submit those issues to binding arbitration the unions had no option but to strike–creating transportation chaos in the Bay Area.
* Reuters reported “Italy’s three main trade union confederations will hold strikes and protests against the government’s 2014 budget plan, they said on Monday, piling more pressure on Enrico Letta’s fragile coalition government….On Friday strikes against the budget by smaller left-wing unions hit transport, education and services and on Saturday demonstrators clashed with police as tens of thousands protested in Rome against austerity.”
* From the Seattle Times, “Thousands of Puget Sound-area grocery workers gave notice late Friday that they will strike if a new labor deal is not reached by a 7 p.m. Monday deadline. About 21,000 workers for Albertsons, Fred Meyer, Safeway and QFC stores in King, Kitsap, Pierce, Snohomish, Thurston and Mason counties would take part.”
* According to the New York Times, “The government shutdown that ended this week will cost the United States economy several billion dollars, according to estimates by economic research firms. But the affiliated damage–like the undermining of consumer and business confidence– will be far greater, economists said, especially combined with the financial effects of the near-breach of the country’s statutory debt ceiling.”
* A three day Longshore strike that shut down the port of Baltimore has been suspended for a 90 day “cooling off” period to resume negotiations for a local agreement.
* The opening trial for 940 North Carolina Moral Mondays Campaign arrestees started with the case of Saladin Muhammad, a long-time North Carolina UE and Black Workers for Justice  activist. He was found guilty by a judge for trespassing, disorderly conduct and violating rules of the General Assembly while peacefully protesting with others on government property. A defense effort is continuing, including a petition. You can find out more by clicking here.

For links to news and feature stories of interest to working people, updated Monday-Friday by 9AM Central, visit our companion Labor Advocate Blog.

That’s all for this week.


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