May 15, 2011

Coal-to-gas project in Mingo County can be powerful message in U.S. energy policy | Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — The project is certainly important.

The message it sends is even more so.

The Mingo County Redevelopment Authority held a ground-breaking ceremony last Monday for the new $3 billion TransGas Development Systems coal-liquefaction plant. Construction of the plant, called Adams Fork Energy, is expected to begin in July.

Officials say the project should be completed and producing gasoline by 2015 and should be in full production by 2016. The New York-based company said the plant will covert 7,500 tons of regional coal a day into 756,000 gallons of premium gasoline — about a third of the amount of gas used in West Virginia each day.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin said the message is critical — the United States is working toward becoming energy independent.

“This sends a message loud and clear that we are serious about becoming energy independent of the foreign countries that hold us hostage because of their oil,” Manchin said.

“The bottom line is that we can do it right here with our own natural resources. This is important for West Virginia and for the United States of America to be energy independent. We should not let ourselves be dependent upon foreign countries who don’t like us anyway for a product we need to run our country.”

It’s no secret that the United States has struggled badly when it comes to developing an effective energy policy. From the Arab oil embargo of 1973, there has been periodic talk about moving toward energy independence in the U.S., particularly during periods when the price of oil spikes. However, concrete, long-term action has been sorely lacking.

Could the Mingo County project be a sign of a positive change?

“There is a lot of excitement here,” acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said. “It will take about four years to complete and, during that time, there will be about 3,000 construction jobs going on, and when it’s complete there will be about 300 full-time jobs at this facility alone plus all the coal mining jobs it will take to supply this plant.

“I think it’s one of the first steps to showing energy independence in West Virginia, which is great during these times of high gasoline prices. We’ll be able to produce a clean, alternative fuel source here, which also helps us reach our energy portfolio goal to have 25 percent of our fuel be an alternative fuel by the year 2025. If this plant works out, we can reproduce it in several places around the state, especially in southern West Virginia.”

Looking toward the future, North Central West Virginia would be a great location for a second coal-to-gas plant — perhaps the former Sharon Steel site in Fairmont.

Adam Victor, owner and president of TransGas, said he believes the plant will be producing gasoline in about 48 months.

“This will be 92 octane gasoline — premium-grade gasoline — and it’s going to be put into the gasoline infrastructure in West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky,” Victor said. “Forty-four of these plants would displace 100 percent of the gasoline consumed in the United States. So, if you build 44 of these plants, you could displace 100 percent of imported gasoline. If you build 100 of these plants, the U.S. could become an exporter of gasoline. We’d actually be turning American coal into dollars to reduce our trade deficits and our national deficits. This is something that solves job problems, solves deficit problems and solves energy problems, and it does so without pollution. This is something that people should be rallying behind all throughout the country.”

One project, certainly, is not going to solve America’s energy challenges. The country needs a total package, utilizing what we have and researching for the future, to fulfill energy requirements needed to survive and thrive.

“We need to come together on a comprehensive energy plan that is environmentally responsible, but that also relies on a mix of our nation’s best resources: coal, natural gas, wind, solar power, biomass and nuclear energy,” Manchin said. “We need to continue our cutting-edge research into technology just like coal liquefaction as well as carbon capture and sequestration. We need to continue drilling domestically, increase our country’s refining capacity, and develop more alternative fuel sources that are ready to go right away — like natural gas and coal-to-liquid fuels.

“This type of commitment will not only move us toward energy independence, but will also create jobs, boost our economy — and help address the rising price of gas that comes from our nation’s costly dependence on foreign oil.”

We’ll be eager to watch in coming years in hopes the TransGas Development Systems project will help push the country in the direction it needs to go.

By:  Editorial