Comment Period Ends on Proposed Indiana Coal Gasification Plant

by Erica Peterson on January 30, 2012

Today is the last day the state of Indiana is accepting public comment on a proposed coal gasification plant. The project is hailed by some for its potential to create jobs, but opposed by those worried about the long-term effects of using coal.

The proposed plant is in Rockport, Indiana—about 125 miles down the Ohio River from Louisville. If the Indiana Department of Environmental Management grants it a permit, it would turn coal into synthetic natural gas, then sell the gas to the state of Indiana.

Industry experts say coal gasification is a viable technology, and a way to use coal in a cleaner—and sometimes more versatile—way.

Jim Neathery of UK’s Center for Applied Energy Research says the technology has been available for decades. He says sometimes it makes sense to convert coal to gas, because people use gas to heat their homes, and the infrastructure already exists to transport the fuel.

“It makes a lot more in sense in terms of the environment too,” he said. “You’re able to clean the coal while you’re converting it to get a natural gas that meets standards of any home in the United States by gasifying it.”

But there’s a lot that’s still uncertain about the plant. Similar projects have been stalled, despite permits being granted. Sometimes the culprit is litigation from environmental groups. But sometimes it’s for economic reasons. As natural gas prices remain low, it may not be economically viable to spend more than $2.6 billion building the facility.

Another uncertainty for the plant in Rockport is what to do with its excess carbon dioxide. Right now, the plan is to liquefy it and pump it to the Gulf of Mexico for enhanced oil recovery. But the pipeline needed to do that hasn’t been built yet.

Proponents of the measure argue it will create good paying jobs in the area. But John Blair of non-profit Valley Watch says southern Indiana is already beset with industry that releases pollution into the air and water.

“That’s what we face every day,” he said. “That’s what we’re forced to breathe every day of every year.”

A spokesman for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management said the state has determined that building the coal gasification plant will not cause the area to violate Air Quality Standards.

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