Guest Essays, Opinion

Guest essay: ‘Science facility’ will create more pollution than Longview

by Duane Nichols

The proposed “science facility” that is being planned by Marion Energy Partners, LLC, would be located in the Morgantown Industrial Park. The justification provided thus far — to take up space, to consume natural resources (natural gas) and to pollute the local valley — is very problematic. Our concerns include: distracting vapor plumes, noises 24/7/365, regional competition for internet services and more drilling and fracking.

Northeast Natural Energy and Marion Energy Partners applied for an environmental permit for a facility that would use their existing drill pad in the Morgantown Industrial Park, without first notifying the park managers. Even now, the companies have kept this project secret from the park’s managers and the Monongalia County Commission, both of whom are involved with spending public funds to sustain and improve the park. The existence of any project at all in the MIP was not disclosed to these local entities!

There is information that is part of the multi-year “Marcellus Shale Energy & Environment Laboratory” project that is relevant to siting, raw gas supply, facility construction, ancillary equipment specifications and sustained operating conditions. This includes information for properly designing and operating the critically important oxidation catalyst units.

It seems like this facility might be a cryptocurrency mining operation. Noise and the other possible nuisances are also important issues, but will receive secondary (if any) consideration by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. There are Bitcoin mining facilities in other states that produce significant noise and other complaints.

The proposed facility does need an air quality permit, now in process. (A different permit would be required if an evaporative cooling system is to be used.) The 45-CSR-13 (Section 2.24) defines a “stationary source” as a facility that discharges more than 10 tons per year (TPY) of any regulated air pollutant, or more than 5 TPY of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs). The 45-CSR-13 (Section 5.1) specifies that no person may construct a “stationary source” without a permit. This is also confirmed in Section 2.3 of the draft permit.

Table 3 of the DEP’s R13-3533 Engineering Evaluation indicates that these thresholds are exceeded for nitrogen oxides (NOx, 66 TPY), carbon monoxide (CO, 33 TPY) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs, 33 TPY), as well as total HAPs (14.4 TPY) and formaldehyde (6.68 TPY). Therefore, a WV DEP permit is necessary.

When these emission rates are compared on the basis of pounds per million BTU, the levels of nitrogen oxides now authorized exceed those allowed under the operating permit for the Longview coal-fired power plant (R30-06100134-2018) by a factor of approximately 2.6. The VOC levels proposed for the Marion Energy facility exceed those of Longview by 21 times.

In conclusion, the construction of this facility in the Morgantown Industrial Park has not been justified as needed or consistent with regional norms, and it would appear to be quite problem prone. The generation of electricity in the Morgantown Industrial Park would unnecessarily pollute the region and worse.

Duane Nichols is the coordinator for the Mon Valley Clean Air Coalition. He is a retired chemical engineer, having worked in coal and natural gas research, who lives in Morgantown.