The last quarter GDP figures were announced by the Government of India and there is much to be cheerful about for the country. Unlike most other parts of the world, the Indian economy is growing, and even rating agencies like Moody's are reflecting the optimism in the country. The Government of India's 'Make in India' thrust is also gaining momentum. Ever so often we hear of global companies setting up manufacturing in India. India is the new growth story and the darling of analysts.
But some stories get hidden away. One such story is how India is becoming a dumping ground for the worst of the dirty fuel from oil refineries in the US. Petroleum coke (petcoke). Petcoke is the last stage of fuel grade waste, leftover from refining Canadian tar sands crude and other heavy oils. It is cheaper and burns hotter than coal, but also contains more planet-warming carbon that leads to extreme weather events and climate change.
Petcoke has a dangerous emission - sulphur - that does a lot of damage to the lungs and heart. The petcoke being burned in countless factories and plants is contributing to the pollution in India. The country has seen a dramatic increase in sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions in recent years, concentrated in areas where power plants and steel factories are clustered. Laboratory tests on imported petcoke used near New Delhi found it contained 17 times more sulphur than the limit set for coal, and a staggering 1,380 times more than for diesel, according to the Environmental Pollution Control Authority. Those pollutants are converted into microscopic particles that lodge deep in the lungs and enter the bloodstream, causing breathing and heart problems.
The U.S. is the world's largest producer and exporter of petcoke. In an investigation done by Associated Press, refineries are sending it around the world, especially to energy-hungry India, which last year got almost a fourth of all the fuel-grade petcoke the U.S. shipped out. In 2016, the U.S. sent more than 8 million metric tons of petcoke to India. That's about 20 times more than in 2010.
Petcoke traditionally was used in the U.S. to make aluminium and steel after its impurities were removed. But when those mills closed or moved to other countries, the need for petcoke waned, although some power plants still use it. Other industries that had burned petcoke in the past did not want to invest in costly upgrades to control emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, so they shifted to cleaner natural gas.
Indian purchases of U.S. fuel-grade petcoke skyrocketed two years ago after China threatened to ban the import of high-sulphur fuels. Although Indian factories and plants buy some petcoke from Saudi Arabia and other countries, 65 percent of imports in 2016 were from the U.S., according to trade data provider Export Genius. India's cement companies were first to bring in petcoke. As word spread of the cheap, high-heat fuel, other industries began using it in their furnaces. It is further encouraged by low import tariffs and a lack of regulations on its most potent pollutants.
The National Green Tribunal demanded in May that the government investigate the environmental and health impacts of petcoke. The government's environment ministry has dismissed the idea that petcoke threatens public health in the nation's capital, but the Supreme Court, which has consistently demanded or enacted tougher pollution control measures, recently banned petcoke use by some industries as of Nov. 1 in the three states surrounding pollution-choked New Delhi. It also demanded tighter pollution standards that could further limit its use nationwide. The fact remains that petcoke markets grew so fast across the country that a ban around New Delhi isn't going to put a huge dent in the overall demand for petcoke.
While the government chants the mantra of make in India, the US chants the mantra of dump in India! What is the solution? Refineries should stop producing petcoke. They need to use refining methods that would convert all the heavy oil to other products. Government of India should tax high-carbon fuels such as petcoke. They should ban high-sulphur or high-carbon fuels....