“Of Canada’s oil production, 2.3 million barrels a day are tar sands oil, versus 200,000 barrels a day for conventional heavy,” explains Josh Mogerman of the Natural Resources Defense Council in a recent news article. “The vast majority is tar sands and we really are at the center, with most of it coming to the upper Midwest.”
Three sites in Chicagoland rank high on the list of the top ten US refineries of tar sands oil: Exxon-Mobil in Joliet, Citgo in Lemont, and BP in Whiting/East Chicago. These refineries receive the dirty sludge through a series of pipelines built by the Enbridge corporation, which has expanded its pumping capacity beyond what would have been provided by Keystone XL. Instead of going to Texas, the oil goes to the Midwest. We are Tar Sands Central: the delivery point for the most environmentally damaging oil operation on the planet. Other big Midwestern refineries of tar sands oil include the Flint Hills lant in Pine Bend, Minnesota; WRB in Wood River, Illinois; PBF in Toledo, Ohio; Husky Energy in Lima, Ohio; and Marathon in Detroit, Michigan.
Unfortunately, tar sands oil has its consequences, just like Bakken crude. One of them has to do with the refining process itself, which produces large quantities of petroleum coke, or petcoke. In South Chicago, residents are confronted with towering petcoke piles releasing fine cancerogenic dust into the air – and claims that this situation will be mitigated look a lot like sheer propaganda. Another consequence has to do with oil spills. In 2010, an Enbridge pipeline burst in Michigan, releasing deadly benzene gas into the atmosphere and spilling over one million gallons of diluted bitumen, or “dilbit,” into the riverbed. It was the largest freshwater oil spill in US history, and the heavy tar sands oil sank straight to the bottom, making a full clean-up almost impossible. These kinds of leaks are very likely to continue. Just last year, on March 24, 2014, in fresh confirmation of its global reputation for lapsed safety practices, BP dumped at least 1,600 gallons of “heavy oil” – undoubtedly toxic tar sands – into the waters of Lake Michigan. Meanwhile a refinery in Superior, Wisconsin, has made tentative steps toward setting up a loading dock for barge traffic of crude on the Great Lakes, though the project has been suspended for now. There are so many reasons to be alert about oil flows in the Midwest.
“From April 14th to the 30th, the Enbridge Tar Sands Resistance Tour is traveling from Michigan to Minnesota to build the resistance across the Midwest. At each stop we’ll hear from community leaders about the threat Enbridge and tar sands poses to our communities, and we’ll strategize and make action plans for how to stop it. At the end of the tour, with thousands of new people engaged, we will all come together in Minneapolis for a mass action against the Alberta Clipper pipeline which has already illegally started transporting tar sands, and must be stopped!”