GILBERTON Everything you ever wanted to know about the incoming coal-to-oil project is now available in a new report.

But if you have questions, the U.S. Department of Energy said you shouldn't be afraid to ask.

"We're giving the public the opportunity to comment," said Janice L. Bell, National Environment Policy Act (NEPA) document manager, Pittsburgh. "Then we'll evaluate their suggestions to determine if they're valid."

Some questions from the public could include:

  • Will any emissions from this syngas facility pollute the air?

  • How much water will the facility use per day?

  • Why was the plant designed to only have a lifetime of 26 years?

John W. Rich Jr., president of Waste Management and Processors Inc. (WMPI) and Reading Anthracite Co., Pottsville, has been working for years to build the proposed $612 million coal gasification plant.

It will use a gasifier to convert culm, the coal waste that accents northern Schuylkill's topography, into syngas, a clear, zero-sulfur liquid which will be marketed for the production of jet fuel.

This study was prepared by the U.S. Department of Energy in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. Its formal name is "Environmental Impact Statement for the Gilberton Coal-to-Clean Fuels and Power Project," and it's an evaluation of anticipated environmental impacts during the construction and operation of the proposed facility.

It's available for the public to read at Pottsville Free Public Library, Mahanoy City Library and Frackville Free Public Library, Bell said. It can also be viewed online at Hard copies can be obtained by contacting Bell at (412) 386-4512.

The public will have the chance to ask questions at two public hearings. The hearings are slated for 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 9, 2006 at Shenandoah Valley Jr./Sr. High School and 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 10 at the D.H.H. Lengel Middle School, Pottsville.

Concerns can be mailed or e-mailed to the department's offices. The deadline for comment submissions is Tuesday, Feb. 8.

The report addresses a number of issues, including the construction timetable, possible emissions and the estimated amount of water the facility will consume per minute.

When will the plant be built?

"Construction of the proposed facilities would begin in early 2006 and continue until 2008," the report states.

During a three-year period, from mid-2008 until mid-2011, the plant's performance and reliability will be monitored.

"The facilities would be designed for a lifetime of 26 years, including the 3-year demonstration period," the NEPA study states.

Why only 26 years?

"Normally plants are designed for a certain lifetime," Bell said.

What about emissions?

Emissions would be discharged primarily from the five, 200-foot stacks to be located in the main plant on the Broad Mountain in Mahanoy Township, just east of Gilberton Power Co., Rich's co-generation plant.

"Based on a plant operating rate of 7,500 hours per year, air emissions from the proposed facilities would total less than 100 tons per year," the report states.

Hazardous air pollutants, including volatile organic compounds and oxides of nitrogen, could make up about 25 percent of that.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) doesn't allow the plant to discharge any more than that, according to the air permit it approved for the project earlier this year.

Not every question about potential air pollution was answered in the NEPA's report.

"A high percentage of hazardous air pollutants and trace elements in the synthesis gas would be removed," the report states, "but no quantitative estimates of the proposed facilities' emissions of these pollutants are currently available."

Meanwhile, the NEPA used a computer-based air dispersion model to estimate the maximum increases in ground-level concentrations of sodium dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter and carbon monoxide as a result of the stacks' emissions.

Concerning those, the report states: "initial results indicated that maximum concentrations were predicted to be less than their corresponding significant impact levels."

Where will the water come from to run the plant, and how much will the operation require?

The Gilberton mine pool will supply the facility. Containing an estimated 1.8 billion gallons of water, these flooded underground mine workings are located beneath the borough of Gilberton.

"The underground mining operation closed and dewatering stopped in 1967, after which the workings filled with water," according to Michael D. Yaccino in the 1976 report for the state, "Establishing Gravity Flow, Gilberton Pump."

Approximately 4,162 gallons per minute will be pumped from the mine pool into the plant to supply the process, the cooling towers and the coal beneficiation plant.

"If the water supply were affected," the Department of Energy's report states, "the facilities' owners would address the situation by establishing a connection with one of the public water suppliers."

Rich was called for comment Thursday afternoon. A message was left, but the call was not returned.

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