Thursday, December 29, 2005

Gilberton Coal-to-Clean-Fuels and Power Project

The US Department of Energy is seeking comments on a draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Gilberton Coal-to-Clean-Fuels and Power Project, which would construct a plant to produce clean hydrocarbon liquids, electricity, and steam from anthracite coal waste. Comments can be made at two public meetings:
  • Jan. 9, 2006 at 7:00 PM at Shenandoah Valley Senior High School, Shenandoah
  • Jan. 10, 2006 at 7:00 PM at DHH Lengel Middle School, Pottsville
Information sessions at both places from 4:00 PM to 6:30 PM preceding the public hearings.

You can also submit written comments by Feb. 8, 2006. Full details here.

From the Environmental Consequences section of the draft EIS: "Trace emissions of other pollutants would include mercury, beryllium, sulfuric acid mist, hydrochloric acid, hydrofluoric acid, benzene, arsenic, and various heavy metals." Now, while they will scrub the emissions to reduce the amount of these elements that gets sent into the atmosphere, further on in the paragraph it reads "a high percentage of hazardous air pollutants and trace elements in the synthesis gas would be removed, but no estimates of the proposed facilities' emissions of these pollutants are currently available." I interpret that "as we can remove 99% of x, but we don't know what x is." So therefore, they can't really say how much of each of these hazardous materials will be released. They do go on to say that the EPA allows a max of less than 10 tons for any single hazardous air pollutant (e.g., mercury) and less than 25 tons total of all hazardous air pollutants in a rolling 12-month period. So I guess we can infer that they think it will be less than the maximums allowed, but that isn't even guaranteed, based on this statement (page 4-9): "Part of the purpose of the proposed project is to generate environmental data, including hazardous air pollutant measurements, from the operation of the integrated technologies at a sufficiently large scale to allow industries and utilities to assess the project's potential for commercial application." So I guess we're guinea pigs.

Then there's that little Global Warming thing. From the EIS, page 4-11: "The proposed facilities would increase global CO2 emissions by about 832,000 tons per year, which is about 0.003% of global CO2 emissions of 26,713 million tons resulting from fossil fuel combustion in the year 2000." While 0.003% doesn't sound like much, to think that one little plant in Schuylkill County will be adding 832,000 tons of CO2 emissions is a little ... alarming.

Based on their analysis of the effects to the local water supply, it doesn't sound bad (other than reducing the flow of water to the Mahanoy Creek by about 43%, but they say since no one drinks from the Creek, that doesn't really matter).

There are probably some more interesting insights that can be made by reading the entire EIS. I encourage people to post comments here.

I'm all for looking for alternative energy production methods, but it seems we're just swapping in another non-renewable energy source here (anthracite waste). Public funding is far better spent on researching and implementing renewable resources that do not contribute the environmental hazards that burning fossil fuels do -- let's look at solar collectors and wind farms and quit relying on fossil fuels. I'd much rather have a wind farm in my back yard than five more smokestacks spewing unknown quantities of pollutants.

No comments: