Pet coke storage battle shifts to River Rouge

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Photo Credit: Robin Buckson / The Detroit News
Piles of petroleum coke product in Detroit on March 8, 2013.

Article courtesy of Jim Lynch | February 20, 2014 | The Detroit News | Shared as educational material

River Rouge — The battle over petroleum coke storage along the banks of the Detroit River has shifted several miles south to a new location on the River Rouge/Ecorse border.

Detroit Bulk Storage has a permit application before the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality that could clear the way for the material to be stored at its headquarters. The property, listed at 530 W. Great Lakes St., sits roughly eight miles from where the storage of petroleum coke in Detroit last year became an issue of contention between the company and residents in the United States and Canada.

After months of protests and back and forth between Detroit Bulk Storage and the city of Detroit in 2013, the company agreed to stop storing the material along the riverfront near the 2200 block of Fort Street. A company official said Wednesday the permit could allow Detroit Bulk Storage to potentially store petroleum coke at its headquarters site, where it has been doing business for 30 years.

Petroleum coke — or pet coke — is a byproduct of the coal refinery process that’s often sold as a fuel source. The mounds along the Detroit River last year were produced at the nearby Marathon Oil Refinery and purchased by Koch Minerals LLC.

For much of 2013, Detroit residents and elected officials raised concerns about dust from the material blowing into neighborhoods and washing into the river — which they argued could hurt public health. The DEQ has said testing of the material shows it poses no threat to human or animal health.

State officials will host a public information session March 5 in Wyandotte from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Grand Harbor Banquet Hall, 1 St. John St.

“If we’re permitted to do so in our Permit to Install, we would certainly look at storing pet coke here,” said Noel Frye, vice president of Detroit Bulk Storage. “But there’s no guarantee that will happen.

“I can say that yes, we’d love to have it. But are we going to get a contract to do that, I don’t know because we don’t have it now.”

The permit allows a company to lay out how it will deal with on-site materials. Detroit Bulk Storage’s permit application addresses fugitive dust with steps that include:

■Use of truck-mounted water cannons and misting bars to control the material when being moved.

■Positioning of a marine barge between freighters and the shore to protect the Detroit River area from material that may follow during the loading process.

■Restricting handling and loading when sustained winds exceed 30 miles per hour or gusts reach 45 miles per hour.

■Treating with water piles stored for less than 45 days to suppress dust, while sealing with an epoxy piles stored longer than 45 days.

While those steps may represent more precaution that what was in place last year, they may not go far enough to satisfy some critics. State Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, lobbied against the pet coke storage last year and wants the material banned unless it is in covered storage.

“We see it as a public health and nuisance issue,” she said Wednesday. “If they want to store this stuff with piles that are 40 feet high or more, they have not shown they can contain it.”

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