A gift to Detroit from Canada's tar sands fields.
Detroit’s Petroleum Coke PilesFacebook page
A gift to Detroit from Canada’s tar-sands operators.

A riverside refinery that has operated in Detroit since the 1930s began refining a new type of oil in November: tar-sands oil from Canada.

In the few short months since it began handling the Canadian oil, the refinery has already spewed out a three-story mountain of black waste covering an area the size a city block. That mountain is still growing, and it is not covered with anything to prevent tiny carbon particles from blowing over the city.

The waste can’t be legally used as fuel in the U.S., so the Koch brothers have bought up the pile and plan to sell it to be burned in poorer countries that enjoy freedom from all of America’s bothersome environmental regulations.

From The New York Times:

An initial refining process known as coking, which releases the oil from the tarlike bitumen in the oil sands, also leaves the petroleum coke, of which Canada has 79.8 million tons stockpiled. Some is dumped in open-pit oil sands mines and tailing ponds in Alberta. Much is just piled up there.

Detroit’s pile will not be the only one. Canada’s efforts to sell more products derived from oil sands to the United States, which include transporting it through the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, have pulled more coking south to American refineries, creating more waste product here. …

“Here’s a little bit of Alberta,” said Brian Masse, one of Windsor’s Parliament members. “For those that thought they were immune from the oil sands and the consequences of them, we’re now seeing up front and center that we’re not.” …

Lorne Stockman, who recently published a study on petroleum coke for the environmental group Oil Change International, says, “It’s really the dirtiest residue from the dirtiest oil on earth.”

The Detroit pile is ugly as hell, but state officials insist that it poses no health threats, so they’re not planning to do anything about it. From The Detroit News:

New tests by Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality have found the massive piles of petroleum coke sitting along the Detroit River do not pose a threat to human health.

The findings aren’t likely to satisfy Detroit and Windsor residents who have complained about the growing piles of petroleum coke on the U.S. side of the river that the Environmental Protection Agency determined in March were not toxic. …

For about two months, residents in Windsor and Detroit have watched with worry as mounds of the material have grown into small mountains. Before they even knew what the material was, there were concerns about its toxicity as well as its proximity to the river.

With the EPA and DEQ findings, state officials said there is little action they can take.

So here’s something else that American can look forward to if their president approves the Keystone XL pipeline, in addition to a very small handful of jobs: mountains of filthy fuel waste.