Powder River Basin

Tar Sands Coal Export Boom: Petcoke Exports Second Highest Ever in April

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 AprilEIA'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.

As You Sow: Coal Investments, Shale Gas, a Bad Bet

In a missive titled “White Paper: Financial Risks of Investments in Coal,” As You Sow concludes that coal is becoming an increasingly risky investment with each passing day. The fracking boom and the up-and-coming renewable energy sector are quickly superseding King Coal's empire as a source of power generation, As You Sow concludes in the report.

As You Sow chocks up King Coal's ongoing demise to five factors, quoting straight from the report:

1. Increasing capital costs for environmental controls at existing coal plants and uncertainty about future regulatory compliance costs

2. Declining prices for natural gas, a driver of electric power prices in competitive markets

3. Upward price pressures and price volatility of coal

4. High construction costs for new coal plants and unknown costs to implement carbon capture and storage

5. Increasing competitiveness of renewable generation resources

B.C. Protest This Saturday to Stop Warren Buffett's BNSF Coal Trains

Warren Buffett, the third wealthiest man on the planet (net worth: $44 billion), often referred to as the “Oracle of Omaha,” is the target of a May 5 action called for by Stop Coal B.C. Well, not Buffett directly, but a rail company he owns through his massive holding company, Berkshire Hathaway: Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway.

BNSF Railway is the second largest freight rail company in the United States and the exclusive carrier of thermal coal from coal basins in the northwestern U.S. to docks in British Columbia, where the dirty coal is exported to the global market, primarily to Asia.

The action calls for activists to blockade BNSF's four coal-loaded freight trains from reaching their final destination for the day and in the process, risk arrest. It is part of 350.org's broader “Connect the Dots” event taking place on Saturday, with actions planned throughout the world.

The Stop Coal B.C. call to action reads,

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