HUNTINGTON — Before ground can be broken for a proposed $1.2 billion coal-to-liquids-fuel facility in Mason County, the company developing it must get its permit applications approved by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP). That can only happen after a required public comments period ends Thursday, July 18, and then perhaps completion of public hearings on the project.
Domestic Synthetic (DS) Fuels, a West Virginia-owned company, says that it will convert the state's coal and natural gas to gasoline and other fuels at the new plant. The facility will go on 200 acres secured from the Mason County Development Authority in the Mason County Industrial Park. The park is approximately five miles north of Point Pleasant, along W.Va. 62, across from the Mason County Airport and along the Ohio River. It will be the first of its kind in the United States, the company claims.
"Domestic Synthetic Fuels has a purchase agreement for $2.8 million for the land with the Mason County Economic Development Authority," said Kevin Whited, the lead developer for DS Fuels.
So far, no permits for the project have received final approval.
"The WVDEP has not approved any permits for this project," said Terry Fletcher, acting communications director for the WVDEP. "The WVDEP's Division of Air Quality (DAQ) received a permit application from Domestic Synthetic Fuels and issued a draft permit that has been sent out to public notice and is now open for public comment."
Fletcher said the public can mail in written comments until 5 p.m. Thursday, July 18, 2019. Comments can be mailed to WV Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Air Quality, 601 57th St., SE, Charleston, WV 25304.
"Once the comment period closes and all comments have been received, the WVDEP will review those comments and make a final determination on the permit," he said.
According to an air quality permit notice issued by the WVDEP, a preliminary evaluation has determined that all state and federal air quality requirements will be met by the proposed construction.
The notice said potential increases in emissions that would be authorized by this permit action include carbon monoxide, 71.32 tons per year (TPY); oxides of nitrogen, 80.91 TPY; particulate matter less than 2.5 microns, 54.66 TPY; particulate matter less than 10 microns, 78.12 TPY; particulate matter, 83.49 TPY; sulfur dioxide, 27.19 TPY; volatile organic compounds, 86.10 TPY; and total hazardous air pollutants, 16.96 TPY. All are under the threshold of acceptable levels, according to the permit notice.
"It is standard procedure for DEP to issue a draft permit that will not be completely approved until after a 30-day comment period," Whited said.
WVDEP recently approved the draft construction permit for the project.
"There will be other permits required as the project develops, like any construction project," Whited added.
Whited said DS Fuels is planning a series of community open house meetings to explain the project and its benefits to the community, however no dates have been announced.
"We want to be as transparent as possible in explaining this project to our neighbors," he said. "We welcome public comment and an opportunity to explain the project to our neighbors."
Robin Blakeman, a project coordinator with the nonprofit grassroots group Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC) based in Huntington, is urging citizens to speak out against the proposed plant.
"We have concerns about this coal-to-liquids plant along the Ohio River," Blakeman said. "So many folks depend on the Ohio River for their drinking water and are concerned about what this plant would do to the water, air and other pollution issues."
Blakeman said serious problems such as sewage contamination, toxic pollution and harmful algal blooms continue to threaten the Ohio River and its many communities.
"We believe that a coal-to-liquid plant is not the direction we should be heading in," Blakeman said. "We believe this plant will add to the pollution of the Ohio River. Pollution that enters the river upstream can impact communities downstream, which is why we need consistent, strong protections to protect people no matter where they live along the river. This is the reason I am urging everyone to submit their concerns to the WVDEP. We will be requesting a public hearing on this project as well."
A copy of the draft permit and application can be found online at https://dep.wv.gov/daq/Pages/NSRPermitsforReviewCurrent.aspx.
According to Whited, the coal-to-liquids facility is expected to create 130 full-time jobs, including management, mining and construction, and boost the local, state and regional economy. He said DS Fuels will bring coal from nearby Kanawha County to feed the facility. The project is expected to create more than 100 mining jobs to supply the facility. Thousands of temporary construction jobs also will be created, he added.
Whited said the Mason County facility will differ from previous coal-to-liquids projects proposed for the state.
"This is environmentally sound," Whited said. "The technology is more advanced, and the direct method used does not actually burn coal, but subjects it to heat and pressure, making the process much greener."
Whited said the direct coal-to-liquids process to be utilized in Mason County mixes coal with a catalyst and hydrogen derived from natural gas and subjects the mixture to heat and pressure to produce ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel, gasoline and other liquids. The resulting fuels burn cleaner than those refined from petroleum and are just as effective in vehicles, he said.
Whited said funding has been secured for the project, including some international investors. He added that the company is not receiving any grants or loans from the county or state.
"We are getting the same tax incentives that are granted to any business in West Virginia; we are receiving no special treatment," he said.
"Unlike prior coal-to-liquids projects proposed in the Mountain State, this is going to happen," Whited said. "We have the money, we have the technology, and we have the expertise."
Whited added that the company has received lots of support from the local community and industry leaders.
"Opportunities like this don't come along every day. We are very pleased here in Mason County to have this facility coming to our area. It'll not only help with economic development, it'll positively impact our tax base," said Tracy Doolittle, a Mason County commissioner. "When you have infrastructure of this size being built, the impact will be felt throughout the entire community. It'll give our citizens hope. It provides a brighter future to look forward to, for the youth, the old, and shows that Mason County can still thrive."
Construction is estimated to begin October 2019 with a project completion date of 2022 or early 2023. The facility is expected to use about 2,500 tons of thermal coal and about 23 million cubic feet of natural gas each day to produce 10,750 barrels of fuel, which is more than 450,000 gallons, according to the company's website.
To learn more about the project, visit www.dsfuels.com.
Whited, who is a managing partner with Green Kinetics Gateway LLC, is also involved with a controversial project in Washington County, Maryland. County officials there signed a contract on Dec. 3, 2013, with the company for a two-phase project that would turn waste at a local landfill into renewable fuel sources. The project hit a snag when the Maryland Department of the Environment wanted to process the permits all at once rather than in phases.
"We agreed with the Maryland Department of Environment to complete the project in phases, but officials later would not approve a permit for a phased approach," Whited said. "As a result, the project was not completed."
Now Washington County, Maryland, officials want the company to pay back $250,000 it was given for the project.
"That agreement was not for a loan," Whited said. "Instead, it provided funding that was necessary because the Maryland Department of Energy had changed the process for permitting of the project. Essentially, the agreement provided Washington County certain rights in the project's plans if Green Kinetics Gateway, LLC was unable to refund to the County the monies advanced.
"Although neither Domestic Synthetic Fuels I, LLC, nor I are obligated under the Washington County agreement, and although the transaction was not a loan, Green Kinetics Gateway, LLC, has proposed to Washington County to substitute a $250,000 promissory note for the prior agreement. Washington County has indicated an interest in that solution, and we are awaiting further communication."
Negotiations are ongoing to settle the issue, according to a Washington County, Maryland, official.
Whited said he has not been a part of any other projects besides the one in Maryland that was not completed and the proposed project in Mason County.
"The agreement with Washington County was entered by Green Kinetics Gateway, LLC, and obligations under that agreement are those of that company and not Domestic Synthetic Fuels, LLC," Whited said.
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