June 24, 2013
Detroit, MI – Today, organizations and citizens from across Michigan and Canada came together in Detroit and Marshall Michigan to launch a summer campaign and take united action to challenge the destructive nature of tar sands and dirty energy. We are approaching the three year anniversary of the 2010 Enbridge tar sands spill in the Kalamazoo River in MI, resulting in the largest on-land oil spill in the country and one of the costliest oil spills in history – and they’re still cleaning it up. Today, a diverse group of students, elected officials, community leaders, indigenous peoples, mothers, and activists came together not only to protest the petcoke piling up on the edges of the Detroit River, but also to propose alternatives and actions that must be taken to challenge the corporate influence over democracy and reclaim our right to clean air, water, and the commons.
“Our work is focused on evolving beyond the destructive energy and out-of-touch economic systems of our past, towards a resilient future that values the health, quality of life, environment, and justice for our communities above all else,” said Jarret Schlaff, Michigan organizer with the Detroit Coalition Against Tar Sands (DCATS). “Our future depends on us creating new forms of working and living that don’t force folks to choose between a paycheck that puts food on the table and a job that jeopardizes the planet’s ability to support life.”
Petroleum coke, also known as petcoke, is a byproduct of oil refining from tar sands (heavy crude oil mixed with sand, clay, and bitumen). The petcoke that is piling up along the Detroit River is low-grade, high in sulphur and heavy metals, making it only useable for electricity. Petcoke is almost entirely made of carbon, which means that it produces more greenhouse gas emissions than tar sands oil and coal when used for electricity. It is known for being the dirtiest of dirty fuel. A ton of petcoke yields on average 53.6 percent more carbon dioxide (CO2) than a ton of coal. CO2 is the greatest contributor to human-induced climate change.
McKenzie Duke, a resident living directly in front of the petcoke piles at the Transflo Terminal on Rosa Parks said, “These giant uncovered petcoke piles, illegally dumped on these properties without proper zoning clearances or necessary permits, and far exceeding applicable local height restrictions, present numerous short and long-term potential public health, safety, and environmental concerns and risks. We need immediate and decisive enforcement action by local, state and federal regulatory agencies.”
For far too long, Detroit has served as a dumping ground for extraction industries, assuming all of the costs and none of the benefits of these destructive processes. The Marathon refinery recently underwent a multi-billion dollar expansion to accommodate an increased flow of tar sands oil that will be pumped in from the Canadian company Enbridge, who is currently expanding its pipeline system within Michigan and the midwest. The Detroit community will bear the burden of this continued industrialization of their neighborhood and the refining of this oil-like substance while a few oil-giants rake in the wealth.
Enbridge’s Line 6B, infamous for the 2010 tar sands spill, is currently in phase two of its expansion. If the expansion is seen to completion, not only will it exacerbate the toxic situation in Detroit, it will also strengthen a dirty energy status quo based on exploitation for many years to come.
“Centralized systems of energy production create homogenized structures that fail to honor the diverse and dynamic nature of landbase, region, and community,” said Chloe Gleichman of the Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands. “Tar sands companies, piping diluted bitumen from Alberta out to the east coast, use the communities in between as a means to an end, disregarding their needs as the profiting companies work with haste to complete pipeline projects. Community displacement, air and water toxification, and atmospheric destabilization are just a few of the effects of dirty centralized energy systems, with poor and otherwise marginalized communities feeling these effects first and hardest.”
Last month, CO2 levels reached 400 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere, higher concentrations than we have seen in the last 800,000 years. The overarching issue of anthropogenic climate change is becoming impossible to ignore, as communities like Detroit serve as the collateral damage in a carbon-intensive energy system which is directly responsible for rising global levels of carbon dioxide.
From the spill in the Kalamazoo River to the piles of petcoke along the Detroit river, this is a fight that unites landowners and concerned community members across the state of Michigan. We are joining people all across the continent who are engaged in fights to stop dangerous fossil fuel extraction methods that threaten our communities and the future of our planet. There are people fighting fracking wells across the midwest, action camps happening regularly in West Virginia and Texas to fight mountaintop coal removal and the Keystone XL pipeline, and indigenous nations in the US and Canada attempting to reclaim their lands stolen by the oil and gas industry. It seems that everywhere we look the oil and gas industry is taking advantage of communities and committing acts of ecocide. Perhaps it is time we ask why this is allowed to continuously happen and hold the government accountable to the people, not the corporations that fund their campaigns without limit. If we do not unite and take action now, it will soon become too late to save the air we breathe, the water on which we depend, and the home that we love from corporate pollution and greed.