Environment & Science
11:19 pm
Mon June 24, 2013

Anti-pet coke activists blockade Detroit dock

Protesters block a truck carrying pet coke from a loading dock on the Detroit River.
Credit Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

 A group of protesters blocked trucks carrying petroleum coke from accessing docks on the Detroit riverfront Monday, as part of several nationwide actions against Canadian tar sands oil.

As one activist put it while issuing an “eviction notice:” “Marathon, Koch Brothers, Matty Moroun…We expect you to leave now.”

That didn’t exactly happen. But the activists did manage to turn several trucks away, and sent a message to the main players behind Detroit’s petroleum coke piles.

Marathon’s Detroit refinery produces the pet coke, a byproduct of refining Canadian tar sands oil.

The Koch Brothers—more specifically the company Koch Carbon, owned by Charles and David Koch—ship and sell the stuff as a low-grade alternative to coal.

And Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun also owns the land that Detroit’s biggest coke piles are now sitting on (though it’s handled by a different company, Detroit Bulk Storage).

Activists are worried about pet coke’s health and environmental impacts, especially since it’s still being stored in uncontained piles on the riverfront. But they’re also concerned about the larger impacts of tar sands oil flowing into the US from Canada.

Activists issued a list of demands. Some were grand in scale—halting the flow of tar sands altogether, and transitioning away from fossil fuels.

Others were more locally-focused, like demands that residents living near the coke piles be given access to baseline health tests, and that Marathon and other industries pay into a community health fund.

Many simply feel like Detroit's riverfront is being treated as a dumping ground.

“It’s a dirty industry, and they didn’t follow proper regulation,” said activist Stephen Boyle. “Right now we’re experiencing illegal dumping.”

A spokesman for the pet coke’s handlers at the site, Detroit Bulk Storage, says they’re working to address environmental and health concerns about the pet coke. They’ve begun spraying the piles with a sealing epoxy to make sure dust doesn’t escape, and have taken steps to seal the ground around the piles so there’s no contaminated runoff.

Anti-tar sands activists, whose campaign against the Detroit pet coke piles has drawn national and international attention, appeared to score a minor victory last week.

That’s when the Nicholson Dock and Terminal backed away from plans to continue storing pet coke at that site.