With many eyes honed in on the Powder River Basin coal export battle in the Northwest, another coal export boom is unfolding on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Although no coal production is actually taking place here, a filthy fuel with even more severe climate impacts than coal is leaving port bound for foreign power plants.
Meet petroleum coke, or “petcoke,” what Oil Change International described in a Jan. 2013 report as “The Coal Hiding in the Tar Sands.”
Petcoke “is a byproduct of coking, a process that takes very heavy oil and produces gasoil (a precursor to diesel or vacuum gasoil) and naphtha,” Platts explains. “The coke is used as a fuel for power plant, in a kiln in the production of concrete or, for some specialty grades, in the production of aluminum or other metals.”
As relayed by Platts, the Energy Information Agency (EIA) is reporting the U.S. exported the second-highest amount of petroleum coke in U.S. history in April. EIA's April data show export levels of 17.78 million barrels, second only to Dec. 2011's 20.44 million barrels of petcoke.
With the tar sands' expansion has come an accompanying petcoke export boom of historical proportion.
“The US exported a record 184.17 million barrels of petroleum coke in 2012, a record up over 20 million barrels compared to 2010,” Platts explained.
According to the EIA report, China is the current top beneficiary of the U.S. petcoke export boom, importing 3.20 million barrels of petcoke in April, the third most it's ever imported from the U.S.
China imported 4.93 million barrels of petcoke from the U.S. in Dec. 2011 and another 3.64 million barrels in Jan. 2013.