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DEP issues permit for ‘science facility’ in Morgantown Industrial Park

The “science facility” proposed for the Morgantown Industrial Park has been cleared by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Air Quality.

Earlier this week the DEP signed off on a construction permit for Marion Energy Partners to construct a 10,000-square-foot facility at 5900 Morgantown Industrial Park.

Exactly what will occur within this science facility, or data center, remains unclear.

The working theory is it’s a cryptocurrency mining facility. Attempts to substantiate that claim have gone unanswered and the DEP says it’s not within its purview to ask.

Per its final determination dated March 7, “The [Division of Air Quality] has no explicit authority to request the applicant to disclose the function of the ‘data center.’ ”

What is known is that the facility intends to pull natural gas directly from a Northeast Natural Energy well pad located a half-mile away to power four engines around the clock, 365 days a year.

A virtual public hearing held by the DEP on Jan. 11 drew more than 40 viewers, many of whom spoke out against the project.

For about two hours, participants, including local and state elected officials, offered comments and asked questions, including why so little information is available and who beyond Marion Energy Partners/Northeast Natural Energy would receive any benefit.

Duane Nichols, a coordinator with the Mon Valley Clean Air Coalition, was among the first to raise questions about the facility.

He points to the DEP’s finding that the “science facility” will put, among other things, tons of particulate matter (3.89 tons), hazardous air pollutants (14.41) and formaldehyde (6.68) into the air when operating within specifications.

He’s now calling on the city of Morgantown to appeal the permit.

“First of all, the public has been compromised because the project has been shrouded in not only confidential behavior, but really misleading behavior,” Nichols said. “To create a company with the name Marion Energy Partners, implies they’re going to be making energy for the public. They’re not. They’re going to be consuming energy and polluting the environment. I think that says that public interest is not being considered whatsoever by these people.”

Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, also participated in that public hearing.

Hansen said he’s yet to learn any additional details about the facility. He said this situation prompted him to introduce legislation requiring disclosure of lawful activity that is the basis of a permit application with the DEP.

According to information available online, HB 4640 was introduced to the House Energy and Manufacturing Committee on Feb. 11.

As for appeal, Terry Fletcher, chief communications officer for the West Viriginia Department of Environmental Protection explained that any appeal would have to be filed with the West Virginia Air Quality Board, a quasi-judicial board of review.

Fletcher also said the WVDEP Division of Air Quality will maintain regulatory oversight over the facility as long as it’s in operation.

“Once the emission source is operational, the DAQ will conduct routine inspections to ensure it is in compliance with the terms and conditions of its issued permit,” Fletcher explained. “I’d like to reiterate that the DAQ only has jurisdiction over emission sources and has no authority to regulate activities powered by those sources, provided they are not feeding a secondary emission source.”

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