Estimating the Externalities of Fossil Fuels Isn’t an Easy Job


I sympathize with those tasked with putting a precise dollar figure on the externalities of fossil fuels. Sure we know there are costs to society in terms of lung damage and long-term environmental damage, but what are they?

The story of the petcoke piles in modern-day Detroit is a case in point.

In brief, petroleum coke, or petcoke, a byproduct of tar sands oil production and also a cheap fuel, has been called “the dirtiest of the dirty fuels” because it emits more carbon dioxide than coal and contains more metal and sulfur. The petcoke in this particular story originates from tar sands oil in Alberta, Canada, it is later refined by Marathon Petroleum and then purchased by Koch Carbon, yes, Charles and David Koch. Last November, without seeking permits, and with no public notification whatsoever, Koch Carbon began dumping enormous mounds of the substance along the Detroit River, which, when the wind blows, forms enormous toxic plumes (pictured above).

Why Detroit? Apparently, Detroit as a sovereign public entity no longer exists, and so the city sits there, powerless to defend itself, like a bird with a broken wing, with an interim government that is anything but a match for the Kochs. The most immediate victims, of course, are the Detroit residents near the petcoke pile; as you watch this brief video, try to imagine yourself one of the local residents whose homes and lungs are on the receiving end of these thick black clouds.

Back to my original point: who can estimate even the short-term damage to these people’s lives? And that’s far easier than guessing at the long-term implications to refining “the dirtiest of the dirty fuels” and expelling the poisonous waste into a world that really doesn’t know what it’s buying into. It’s an impossible task.

The whole subject is so disgusting that – on a lighter note — it makes me want to go have a drink.



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One comment on “Estimating the Externalities of Fossil Fuels Isn’t an Easy Job

There is a relatively easy way to determine the cost of the externalities of burning fossil fuels. First, determine the cost of removing all the emissions that result from the burning, and the mining, drilling, refining, transporting, etc. The cost of removing the emissions can be determined by an auction where bidders would actually provide the removal and cleanup services, and the cost would be billed to those creating the emissions. That should take care of removing the emissions, and thus eliminate the externalities as well. Mission accomplished.

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