India to phase out 'petcoke' imports after AP investigation

By Ashok Sharma, Associated Press

India's government says it plans to phase out imports of a dirty fuel known as petroleum coke, or "petcoke," after an Associated Press investigation found U.S. oil refineries are exporting vast quantities of the product to India.

 

NEW DELHI (AP) — India's government says it plans to phase out imports of a dirty fuel known as petroleum coke, or "petcoke," after an Associated Press investigation found U.S. oil refineries are exporting vast quantities of the product to India.

But when it comes to domestic use, the Indian government seems to be going in a different direction. The government this week argued in court that restrictions on petcoke around polluted New Delhi should be eased for certain low-impact industries. The move has infuriated environmentalists.

The AP investigation found the U.S. sold about 20 times more petcoke to India last year than it did six years earlier after U.S. refineries struggled to sell the product at home. In 2016, the U.S. sent more than 8 million metric tons of petcoke to India, enough to fill the Empire State Building eight times over.

Petcoke is a bottom-of-the-barrel leftover from the refining of Canadian tar sands crude and other heavy oils. It's cheaper and burns hotter than coal. But laboratory tests on imported petcoke used near New Delhi found it contained 17 times more sulfur than the limit set for coal.

A day after the AP investigation was published, Indian Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said the government was formulating a policy to end imports.

"We are planning to implement a system to stop imports and use home-produced petcoke for non-polluting sectors, such as cement production," Pradhan said on Saturday, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.

He said fuel-hungry India consumes about 25 million metric tons of petcoke each year, nearly half of which is imported.

On Monday, the environment ministry argued in an affidavit against a ban on the use of petcoke and furnace oil in New Delhi and the surrounding states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan. The Supreme Court imposed the ban on the three states in October after environmentalist M.C. Mehta filed a petition. The fuels were already banned in the capital.

The ministry said it wanted certain industries such as cement manufacturing to be able to use a small amount of petcoke for about a year until they could come up with alternatives.

But Mehta on Wednesday said petcoke has a big impact.

"There is an environmental emergency with New Delhi as one of the most polluted cities in the world. Pollution levels go up by 50 percent if you are burning petcoke," he said. "Is this government a custodian of people's life and health or is it there to benefit some industrialists?"

Mehta said the government typically only takes action on the environment when forced by the Supreme Court, which in India takes an unusually proactive approach to environmental issues.

Polash Mukherjee, an environmentalist with the Center For Science and Environment, said the ban was important for ensuring clean air until industries move to cleaner fuels or install emission control measures.

New Delhi has been choking from air pollution in recent weeks. The air quality typically deteriorates at this time of year because the winds die down, people build street fires to keep warm and farmers burn fields of old crops.

The pollution has gotten so bad it has even interrupted India's favorite sport of cricket. This week the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team wore pollution masks and the bowlers complained they were short of breath. Some players vomited. Play was stopped several times on Sunday as match officials debated whether to continue, eventually deciding they would.

The Supreme Court will hear the government's oral arguments on easing the petcoke ban next week.

In a separate case in October, the Supreme Court imposed a token fine on the environment ministry for not setting industrial emission standards for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide in New Delhi and the surrounding states. The ministry has promised to comply with the court order by the end of the year.

Mehta, the environmentalist, said that whatever action India takes, the U.S. should impose its own measures by banning exports of petcoke.

Did You Like this Article? Get All the Energy Industry News Delivered to Your Inbox

Subscribe to an email newsletter today at no cost and receive the latest news and information.

 Subscribe Now

Whitepapers

The Time is Right for Optimum Reliability: Capital-Intensive Industries and Asset Performance Management

Imagine a plant that is no longer at risk of a random shutdown. Imagine not worrying about losing...

Going Digital: The New Normal in Oil & Gas

In this whitepaper you will learn how Keystone Engineering, ONGC, and Saipem are using software t...

Maximizing Operational Excellence

In a recent survey conducted by PennEnergy Research, 70% of surveyed energy industry professional...

Leveraging the Power of Information in the Energy Industry

Information Governance is about more than compliance. It’s about using your information to drive ...

Latest PennEnergy Jobs

PennEnergy Oil & Gas Jobs