UIC Institute for the Humanities

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"The Refined State: Tar Sands, Pet Coke, and the Front Lines of Great Lakes Oil Cities"  Add To Calendar

Before tar sands reach consumers as usable energy, they undergo extensive refining. Refineries like the BP Whiting Indiana plant or the Marathon Detroit plant are long-standing institutions that have recently been retrofitted to accommodate the shift of energy source.  They sit directly on Great Lakes waterfronts. Despite a  lawsuit by The Natural Resources  Defense Council (NRDC) and the Legal Environmental Aid Foundation (LEAF) of Indiana with help from the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) against the BP Refinery and a United Steelworkers (USWA) strike in winter 2015, few residents or consumers of Tar Sands energy know how refineries operate or relate to their host communities.  Since the host communities tend to be disproportionately poor and underserved, questions of causality immediately arise. Do refineries make communities poor or do they develop largely in poor communities? How do refineries impact the economic and political status of their neighbors and how can the neighbors’ concerns be heard by energy executives or, for that matter, by the consumers of oil?  Tar Sands come with their own byproduct, Pet Coke, a kind of coal produced by refining oil sands.  Pet Coke sits in exposed piles on the southeast side of Chicago and in Detroit, generating dust with deleterious health effects on those who breathe it.

Noah Hall from Wayne State University will be presenting the following:

The Great Lakes region has a complex and inconsistent approach to oil production, from drilling to transport to refinement. The region has significant oil resources that would be economically and technologically accessible through drilling in the Great Lakes, but with strong public opposition to drilling, it is mostly prohibited by both American states and Canadian provinces and the respective federal governments. The region is also a central part of the North American pipeline system for distribution and transport. After the Enbridge pipeline rupture decimated the Kalamazoo River in 2010, public attention has focused on the risk of pipeline failures, and existing and new pipeline proposals are under increased scrutiny and facing more legal opposition. Finally, the region is a hub for oil refining, building more capacity to process tar sands crude. While the law reflects public opposition to drilling, and legal fights over pipeline transport are building with public concern, the public and legal system have been slower to respond to the health risks of refining. Recent fights over pet coke storage in Detroit give some reason for hope, but the as the costs are disproportionately borne by minority and poor communities, environmental justice has not been achieved. The Great Lakes region must protect all citizens from the harms of oil production, at every stage, for the system to be both effective and just.  

Thomas Frank from the Southeast Environmental Task Force will be presenting the following:

"A Toxic Tour"- For more than a century the southern shores of Lake Michigan have been home to one of the largest and oldest industrial regions on the planet - The Calumet Region. The existing conditions of the region lay bare the captured abuse of the fossil fuel age. And now in the late stages of the fossil fuel era, BP has built its largest refinery to date and the largest Tar Sands in the country. The BP Tar Sands refinery sits on the shores of the world’s largest freshwater resource, within the 4th most biodiverse region on the North American Continent and in what has become a densely populated urban community

Other presenters include:

Dr. Cecilia Martinez, 
Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy 
  • Date(s): Tuesday, 4/19 3:00 PM to Tuesday, 4/19 5:00 PM
  • Campus Address: Institute for the Humanities
  • Address: 701 S. Morgan Street
  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Contact: Linda Vavra
  • Email: huminst@uic.edu
  • Website: huminst.uic.edu
  • Phone: (312) 996-6352


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Institute for the Humanities (MC206)
701 South Morgan, Lower Level / Stevenson Hall
Chicago, IL 60607-7040

Phone (312) 996-6352   Fax (312) 996-2938
Email huminst@uic.edu

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