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Scriba Coal Gasification Plant

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This article is part of the Coal Issues portal on SourceWatch, a project of CoalSwarm and the Center for Media and Democracy. See here for help on adding material to CoalSwarm.

The Scriba Coal Gasification Plant would consume more than 20,000 tons of coal per day, making it one of the largest coal gasification plants in the world. The plant was previously named Empire State and slated for Jamesville, New York, but due to local opposition was relocated and reintroduced by New York City entrepreneur Adam Victor – who has since spent $60,000 on a local advertising campaign to promote coal gasification.[1]

The proposed plant would be twice the size of the original Empire State proposal. It would supply gas to the Novelis aluminum plant, as well as to an electricity and steam plant that TransGas has proposed to build in Brooklyn.

On Sept. 19, 2007, the Scriba Town Board amended a local law that would have prevented the plant’s construction.[2]; at an after-the-fact public hearing on the law change on Oct. 3, many local residents expressed opposition to the project.[3]

On Dec. 7, 2007, TransGas officials held a closed meeting with city officials to discuss the project. TransGas intends to file a site plan layout with the Scriba Planning Board in Feb. 2008.[4]

On May 29, 2008, members of Scriba Coalition of Responsible Citizens met with activists from Jamesville Positive Action Committee (JAM-PAC) opposing the proposed TransGas project in Jamesville to discuss ways of working together.

Scriba location abandoned (2010)

In January, 2010, the Sierra club reported:

As far as we can tell, the coal-to-gas plant proposed by TransGas in Scriba has been abandoned or placed on hold as TransGas focuses on its proposed plant in West Virginia. A recent search of the State's Department of Environmental Conservation website failed to turn up any pending applications for the proposed plant, which was opposed by nearby residents after learning about the potential significant adverse impacts to the local community from the plant.[5]

Defeat of Jamesville location (2007)

An alternate site for the TransGas plant had been the city of Jamesville, New York. In Jamesville, local opposition was organized by Jamesville Positive Action Committee (JAM-PAC). The following account of JAM-PAC's organizing activities was published in Cynlink:[6]

Controversy continues over the proposed coal gasification plant within the town of DeWitt and members from the Jamesville Positive Action Committee are fired up.
DeWitt residents were hit with big news back in December when they heard Empire SynFuel, a company led by New York City entrepreneur Adam Victor, proposed a facility to convert coal to natural gas at the former Alpha Portland Cement factory site, south of Rock Cut Road in Jamesville.
If the project comes to pass, up to 10,000 tons of coal per day is capable of being transformed into natural gas for use in homes, businesses or power plants.
Each day, a freight train with 100 rail cars would transport coal from Pennsylvania or West Virginia to Jamesville. The coal would be unloaded in an enclosed structure, then deposited into 10 40-foot-high gasifiers, which would break the coal down chemically into synthesis gas, composed of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Further processes would remove mercury, sulfur, carbon dioxide and other contaminates.
Ultimately, the synthetic gas would be converted into methane, a substitute natural gas, and pumped through gas mains to a gas pipeline approximately two miles away.
For and against
While there are residents who favor the idea of having a new energy source in town, there are others who would rather see it elsewhere. Vicki Baker, president of JAM-PAC, is among those in opposition.
“Why in God’s name would you take 110 rail cars and bring coal from West Virginia and Appalachia and process it here,” Baker said. “And then they’re going to vent the carbon dioxide which is one of the major global warming issues of the time. It doesn’t make sense to us and we’re extremely concerned.”
“Next to the mouth of a coal mine is where this project should take place,” Baker said. “Not in Jamesville, New York where there are no coal mines.”
Victor, however, explained that Jamesville is the preferred setting because of Project Orange Associates LLC, which uses natural gas to create steam and in turn generate electricity at Syracuse University and its environs. POA receives its supply of gas through its own nine-mile pipeline, which connects to the main interstate natural gas pipeline system.
“The site was chosen because of its proximity to the POA pipeline,” Victor said. “The reason we need to be able to access the nine-mile lateral pipeline which POA owns, and not at an offsite coal mine, is that the pipeline systems can no longer guarantee uninterrupted physical delivery of natural gas – even if it’s your own natural gas.”
“POA, like virtually all natural gas-fueled facilities, needs to develop paradigms for natural gas price certainty,” Victor said. “The Empire SynFuel plant provides for that requisite price certainty by converting coal and water into Substitute Natural Gas [SNG]. The SNG is then transported by POA’s existing pipeline to POA.”
On heavy-demand days, pipelines could refuse or fail to deliver gas, which could force schools, hospitals and similar facilities to close. Thus Empire SynFuel is in effect offering POA a guaranteed fuel supply, which can only be done over the nine-mile stretch of POA-owned pipeline. Victor said his company chose the best site over that stretch.
JAM-PAC members argue that the plant’s proximity to neighborhoods, recreational facilities, and schools – particularly Jamesville Elementary School – is too close for comfort. If a disaster were to strike, all would be affected.
“A refinery should not be built next to an elementary school where children are outside playing on a day to day basis,” said Liz Curly, parent of a seven-year old boy who attends JES. “My concern is the fact that refineries have accidents all the time. We’re dealing with methane gas, which is explosive. Evacuation would be troublesome. Where my son plays and learns should be the safest place.”
But Victor insisted the safety hazards are minimal. “There is no combustion at the facility and relatively few moving parts,” Victor said. “The by-products produced are not flammable, nor toxic.”
Jack Loveland, project manager and former town engineer, said emissions would be insignificant. Loveland is a Jamesville native who lives within a mile and a half of the plant. “I’m not going to build anything that will spoil this neighborhood,” he said.
Keeping educated
Jim DiStefano, DeWitt Town Supervisor, believes there is a lot of misconception due to the fact that the project is still in its infancy stage.
“We have to just let this story unfold before it’s all pre-judged,” he said. “I tell everybody I have three words: I’m all ears. I just don’t know that much about it yet. I know that the property owners and a lot of the residents are very concerned about it. I am, as well. On behalf of the property owners in town – I will advocate on their behalf.”
“The bottom line is if it’s going to be negative for the neighborhood, negative for the houses, I don’t know how we could support it,” DiStefano said.
Victor said during the permitting process, Jamesville residents will be educated on the project.
“[We will] show them that this facility, because it has no combustion, is safer than nearby industrial operations.”
As of mid-March, the Department of Conservation has been the lead agency for environmental review. DEC representative Ken Lynch said the first phase of investigation – scoping, or identifying issues – is just now commencing.
JAM-PAC will be holding an informational meeting at 3 p.m. Sunday April 29 at the Jamesville Fire Department. Visit jam-pac.org for further detail on its position with the proposal.
Loveland also said this country needs to tap into its own energy sources as opposed to relying on other countries. Town Supervisor Jim DiStefano agrees.
“I think the focus of the federal government is what can we do in the United States to reduce our dependence on foreign oil? How can we be more energy efficient?” DiStefano said. “I think those are laudatory goals that we should all be looking at. I don’t think it’s responsible just to say we don’t want any part of this."
JAM-PAC concerns:
Evacuation of high population density during a plant related accident or explosion.
Increased emissions of noxious diesel fumes from idling train engines, vehicle and truck traffic.
Health risks related to potential derailment of rail tank cars containing sulfuric acid and mercury.
Noise from plant operation and 110-foot flare tower.

Project Details

Sponsor: TransGas Development Systems
Location: Scriba (near Oswego), NY
Capacity:
Type: Coal gasification
Projected in service: 2010
Status: abandoned

Financing

Citizen Groups

Resources

References

  1. "Entrepreneur Buys Ads to Promote Coal Plant", Syracuse Post-Standard, September 28, 2007.
  2. "Scriba Board Acts to Advance Gasification Project", GateHouse News Service, September 21, 2007.
  3. "Proponents, Foes Speak Out", Syracuse Post-Standard, October 4, 2007.
  4. "TransGas Calls Its Plans On Track for Deadline", Syracuse Post-Standard, December 18, 2007.
  5. "Stopping the Coal Rush", Sierra Club, accessed March 2010. (This is a Sierra Club list of new coal plant proposals.)
  6. Tami Zimmerman, "Proposed coal plant sparks debate in Jamesville," Cynlink, April 30, 2007

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