Letters From The Earth

Concern for byproduct

By Calvin Frost | November 21, 2013

Contrary to my pal CD’s contention that there is no scientific data that supports rising temperatures and an escalation of greenhouse gas emissions, a paper published in the journal Nature says, “the coldest year in the future will be warmer than the hottest year in the past.” Combine this with the extreme pollution in China which continues unabated. (Remember, China closed all industrial production and car movement during the summer Olympics in 2008 to control air pollution.) Even CD would agree, the problem is serious.

In that same article in Nature, scientists believe the temperature of the earth will rise to levels higher than any recorded in the past. In fact, the University of Hawaii at Manoa has calculated that in 2047 the average temperature in each year will be hotter across most parts of the planet than “it has been at that location in any year between 1860 and 2005.”

The lead scientist for the paper is Camilo Mora. He believes that unprecedented conditions will arrive sooner in the tropics, putting stress on human societies, coral reefs, fresh water, and other necessities that we need for food and survival. When was the last time any of you were in Singapore or Manila or Bangkok? The heat and humidity is already unbearable. And, it’s going to get worse? The paper suggests that if emissions of greenhouse gases remain high, then after 2047 more than half the earth’s surface will experience annual climates hotter than anything experienced, to the point where humans will be under stress.

In my last column I touched on glacier melting, causing rising oceans and displacement of global populations that live near the ocean. Along with rising oceans, Mr. Mora is predicting that rising temperatures will put unprecedented stress on food production. We’re back to the age old question: How do we maintain balance and harmony?

The report out of China this October wasn’t heat. It was pollution, caused by coal burning and low winds. A perfect storm.

Beijing – Heavy smog forced the closure of roads, schools and a major airport for a second day in northeastern China, adding to public pressure on officials to address mounting concerns over air pollution.

All expressways in northeastern Heilongjiang province were closed due to poor visibility, said China’s official Xinhua news agency on Tuesday. Classes at primary and middle schools in the northeastern city of Harbin also were suspended as a health precaution.

In some downtown areas of Harbin – known for its bitterly cold winters, ice sculptures and strong Russian influence due to its proximity to the Russian border – visibility was less than 20 meters, Xinhua said.

Coal burning from the start of the winter-heating season, vehicle emissions, crop burning and a lack of stronger winds were cited by environmental authorities in Heilongjiang as contributing to the smog, Xinhua reported.

The northeastern Chinese provinces of Jilin and Liaoning were also struggling with heavy smog on Tuesday, it said.

As public pressure has mounted in China in recent months, authorities have shown a new urgency in their efforts to control air pollution.

Many Chinese cities, including Beijing, have imposed limits on car purchases, hoping to ease the traffic congestion while managing air pollution. Beijing’s city government is launching a longer-term plan to control industries such as cement and steel, which are considered to be heavy polluters.

This is from the Wall Street Journal, by the way, considered to be a reliable source of information.

Heat, pollution, and what about waste? There’s another “waste” story coming out of the wonderful State of Illinois, my home state. This is a state that has more people on welfare than there are people working. Think about that! This is a state that has a city that pays the highest wages to teachers than anywhere else in the U.S., averaging $110,000/year. (According to the Chicago Tribune. Their pensions average 80 – 90% of their income!) This is a state that has a city where the body count of 292 murdered in the last six months is higher than the 221 killed during that same period in Iraq. (And, Chicago has one of the strictest gun laws in the entire US. It really works, doesn’t it!) Okay, I lost it for a minute!

The waste story is apropos of the political/economic malaise in Illinois and Chicago. It has me steaming. I know, I’m part of the cause of rising temperatures. Okay, enough. On to the waste story.

British Petroleum (BP), that champion of environmental excellence, has a refinery in Whiting, Indiana, along the Calumet River. You’re going to say, “Stop, the refinery is in Indiana, not Illinois.” But, wait, and listen to the story. Yes, the refinery is in Indiana but the storage for their waste is in Illinois. Can you believe it?

This particular refinery has been retrofitted to use Canadian tar sand produced in Alberta. I have written about tar sand in the past and my view continues to be that the manufacturing is invasive and environmentally disruptive. But that’s another subject. In this case, BP buys the tar sand and converts it to lightweight oil which can be further processed into gasoline and other fuels. First you pump the tar sand through a coker.  You use intense heat to draw out the lighter oil. In the process you generate petroleum coke, which is a spongy residual concentrated with carbon, sulfur and heavy metals. I don’t get it: tar sand manufacturing causes terrible environmental issues; the pipeline that carries the crude to Whiting has leaks; and the refining process in Whiting generates unfriendly byproduct. The message to me is no “end of life” concerns and full throttle on money, money, money.

Here’s the kicker: BP is finishing an expansion at the Whiting refinery that will more than triple production. They will likely triple the amount of petroleum coke (petcoke) generated. The storage sites for the petcoke are not in Whiting. If storage was in Whiting, BP would be obligated to enclose them under the terms of its Clean Air Act permit and a federal legal settlement that took place a number of years ago and had to do with pollution of Lake Michigan and air emissions. Instead, the petcoke is stored in Chicago, and those storage sites are not required to comply with the same stringent air pollution regulations which are supposed to reduce particulate matter. Get it. Make it in Indiana and send your junk to Illinois. Need I say more?

Starting in 2014, BP will generate about 2 million tons of petcoke a year at Whiting. This is an increase of over a million tons because of the expansion. Most, if not all, will be moved to storage sites in the Chicago area. There are no requirements for enclosure. Particulate matter is blown as far north as our office. Just run your finger on our window sill!

The other interesting part of this story is what happens to petcoke besides causing lung cancer. Most of it is sold to third world countries where it is mixed with coal and used in coal-fired boilers. China is by far the largest buyer of American petroleum coke. In 2012 China bought 26 million barrels, this up from 2.1 million barrels in 2007. All it does is add to pollution generated by that boiler.

Everything is connected, isn’t it? Tar sands, pipeline, refinery, byproduct, carbon dioxide emissions, and so on. If we don’t start from the beginning, and design with end of life in mind we lose, at least that’s the way I look at it. Lester Brown’s solution is to tax for the corollary liability. I think he’s on to something. Either get it right from the beginning or pay for the problems that you have caused.

Our industry has made great strides. We do, finally, seem to be genuine in our concern for byproduct. In meetings this fall in both Europe and America I have noticed greater focus and attention than ever in considering change that will improve our carbon footprint. For those of you who make the effort, kudos. For those who haven’t made the same commitment, it is not too late to climb on the train of change. There is plenty of room and you will be warmly welcomed.

Happy New Year. Let 2014 be a good one for all.

Another Letter from the Earth.

Calvin Frost is chairman of Channeled Resources Group, headquartered in Chicago, the parent company of Maratech International and GMC Coating. His email address is cfrost@channeledresources.com.
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