Friday, November 14, 2008

Proposed NY Pet-Coke Gasification Plant

This is a guest post by Walter Simpson of the Western NY Climate Action Coalition.

Lackawanna Clean Energy (LCE) is proposing a petroleum coke gasification plant to be constructed at the Bethlehem Steel site in Lackawanna, NY, adjacent to the Steel Winds wind farm. For those of us concerned about greenhouse gas emissions and the serious problem of global warming and climate change, the impact of this plant deserves serious study.

The project is in the draft environmental impact study stage of the State Environmental Quality Review Act process and appears to be moving along at a rapid rate. Petroleum coke is a refinery waste product which is more carbon intensive than coal. According to literature provided by LCE, their proposed gasification plant will convert 6,000 tons of pet coke a day to 85 million cubic feet per day of pipeline quality natural gas that could heat 450,000 homes a year. The project is being presented as good for our local economy. LCE says as many as 1,500 jobs will be created during a two year construction period and operating that plant will require up to 200 jobs. Local tax-base benefits are also touted. LCE would like to have the plant built and in operation by 2012.

According to documents supplied by LCE, conventional pollutants would be addressed with the best available control technology (BACT). GHG emissions from the plant are estimated to be 4,257,000 tons if CO2e/year. For comparison, consider that the proposed new Jamestown NY coal plant would emit approximately 300,000 tons of CO2e/year without carbon capture and storage (CCS) and approximately 150,000 tons per year with the level of CCS required by Governor Paterson. UB’s recently conducted greenhouse gas inventory indicated that total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from UB’s both campuses is 142,000 tons of CO2e/year. Thus the LCE gasification plant would produce 28 times the emissions of the Jamestown plant with CCS and 30 times those associated with operating UB. 4,257,000 tons of CO2e/year represents a full 2% increase in GHG emissions for all of New York State.

The above numbers are striking and suggest environmental groups should be very concerned about this plant. However, proponents of the project argue that it will use clean energy technology and that they are responsibly addressing the plant’s environmental impact, including GHG emissions.

According to LCE’s CO2 Management Plan (dated July 2008 and obtained from the NYS DEC through a Freedom of Information request), LCE’s gasification plant would actually produce a net reduction of GHG emissions of 2,466,000 tons of CO2e/year. They arrive at this figure by considering the fossil fuel energy and GHG emissions which will be avoid by (a) transporting pet coke to Lackawanna instead of other locations where it would be burned, (b) eliminating GHG emissions associated with producing natural gas through other means, and (c) creating less GHG emissions by gasifying pet coke compared to burning it. In addition, LCE is proposing to purchase carbon offsets for 432,000 tons of CO2e/year, create a CO2 emissions research center, and demonstrate carbon capture and geo-sequestration (burying emissions underground) for some portion of the plants GHG emissions.

Would the LCE pet coke gasification plant be an environmental benefit or cost? Is it part of the solution to climate change or a potentially very large contributor to the problem? Clearly it depends on the accuracy and fairness of LCE’s analysis and one’s perspective. Minimally, we can say this is a very interesting proposal deserving of careful public scrutiny.

On November 18, here will be a presentation of the proposal for petroleum coke gasification by Lackawanna Clean Energy, followed by a panel discussion open to the public. For further information, click here.

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