American oil refineries have been exporting massive amounts of dirty fuel products to heavily-polluted and energy-hungry India since they are unwilling to use it locally, a new report says.
The Associated Press reported on Friday that it had found US refineries dumping petroleum coke — the leftover from refining Canadian tar sands and other heavy crude — across the globe, especially in India.
The South Asian country last year received nearly one-fourth of the fuel grade “petcoke” that the US shipped abroad, according to the report.
In 2016, the US shipped over eight million metric tons of petcoke to India — “about 20 times more than in 2010, and enough to fill the Empire State Building eight times.”
According to the report, while petcoke is cheaper and burns hotter than coal, it also “contains more planet-warming carbon and far more heart- and lung-damaging sulfur,” which is the main reason few US companies use it.
The petcoke that is burned in countless factories and plants across India has exacerbated the dangerous air pollution in the populous South Asian country.
Tests on imported petcoke used near India’s capital of New Delhi found 17 times more sulfur than the limit for coal, according to the Indian Environmental Pollution Control Authority.
India’s own petcoke, produced domestically, also adds to the pollution.
‘Choking to death already’
“My life is finished… My lungs are finished,” said New Delhi resident Satye Bir, expressing fury over the city’s air quality. Wheezing and reaching for an inhaler, the 63-year-old man added, “This is how I survive. Otherwise, I can’t breathe.”
While industry officials insist that petcoke has been a significant fuel, the use of which recycles a waste product, health and environmental advocates underline that the US — the world’s largest producer and exporter of petcoke — is essentially dumping its environmental waste elsewhere.
“We should not become the dust bin of the rest of the world,” said Sunita Narain, a pollution authority member in the Indian capital who heads the Center for Science and the Environment. “We’re choking to death already.”
Nearly 1.1 million Indians die prematurely as a result of outdoor air pollution every year, according to the US-based nonprofit Health Effects Institute.
“Fifty percent of children in Delhi have abnormalities in their lung function — asthma, bronchitis, a recurring spasmodic cough. That’s 2.2 million children,” said the pulmonary chief of New Delhi’s Heart and Lung Institute, Dr. Sai Kiran Chaudhuri.
Dozens of American refineries across the US have built units called cokers to process heavy crude into petroleum products, which leaves petcoke as waste.
The American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) says cokers “allow the United States to export petroleum coke to more than 30 countries to meet growing market demand.”
‘They need to get rid of it’
Experts insist, however, that it is not market forces that are driving US refiners to sell this waste product. “They say refineries just need to get rid of it, and are willing to discount it steeply,” the report said.
“It’s like the Wild West,” said oil analyst Stuart Ehrenreich, who once managed Koch Industries petcoke export terminals.
Among the biggest traders of petcoke are Oxbow Energy Solutions and Koch Carbon, led by members of the US-based politically conservative Koch family. However, neither they nor a dozen other American oil companies and traders contacted by the AP would talk about petcoke.
Aldo in India, no factory managers would allow AP access, and the country’s federal authorities did not respond to interview requests, according to the news agency.
The report cited experts and environmentalists as saying, “If pollution limits affect India petcoke use, US refiners will find new customers, perhaps in Asia and Africa.”
“It’s a classic case of environmental dumping,” said Lorne Stockman, the director of the environmental group Oil Change International. “They need to get rid of it, so it’s dumped into a poor, developing country.”