This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
A fuel producer hopes to shore up the fading market for central Utah's coal fields with a plant that would process up to 750 tons a day into various liquid fuels.
But critics are concerned that Utah regulators are allowing the plant, proposed to be operated in Wellington by a company called Revolution Fuels LLC, to "fly under the radar," ensuring it receives minimal public scrutiny despite a potential to degrade air quality.
At the request of a Carbon County resident, the Utah Division of Air Quality (DAQ) will host a public hearing Wednesday. According to Revolution's filings with the agency, the plant would produce up to 1,865 barrels of diesel fuel, jet fuel, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and naptha per day, while unleashing nearly 300,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually.
"The question is how much degradation goes with it and the public deserves to know the answer to these questions," said Dennis Willis, a Price resident. "The county and DAQ are doing the dance of the seven veils. We are only shown pieces. There isn't disclosure on the whole thing. They will produce god-awful amounts of coal ash. How would it be transported and disposed of?"
Troy Mckinley, listed as the Tooele-based principal of Revolution Fuels, did not return a phone message seeking comment. Available documents provide no information about how much the project would cost or how Revolution would finance it.
Carbon County leaders endorse the project, although it has not been discussed in an open session of the County Commission, except to sign off on a nondisclosure agreement with the company in 2013. According to Tami Ursenbach, the county's economic development director, Revolution is pioneering a process that is more efficient than those deployed in past proposals that never got off the ground. Even in the current period of low oil prices, Revolution's plant would be viable, she said.
"It's a new process; it's proprietary information. We are not allowed to know what that completely is," said Ursenbach. "If it is a typical coal-to-liquids [process], they wouldn't do it, because it wouldn't be profitable. They can be profitable when is oil is less than $35 [per barrel]."
She said the plant would employ 60 people initially, a tally that would grow to 200 or 300 when the facility reaches full production. It could process up to 273,750 tons of coal a year.
"I would not support them if I felt it was not positive for the county or there was an environmental issue," Ursenbach said.
The coal-to-liquids, or CTL, process is a well-established technology dating back to the 1930s, perfected by Germany after oil-producing nations cut off the Nazis during the years leading up to World War II. The multiphase process is extremely energy intensive, and emissions are released in every step.
Under Revolution's plan, pulverized coal is subjected to intense pressure and heat, with temperatures up to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, converting it into a gaseous state. This "syngas," or synthesis gas, is then purified and turned into a waxy crude-like liquid through the Fischer-Tropsch process. This hydrocarbon material is then fractionated into various fuels through methods similar to those in conventional oil refineries.
The DAQ proposes that the plant be allowed to release 20.2 tons of large particulate per year, 20.2 tons of small particulate, 23 tons of nitrous oxides, 83.8 tons of carbon monoxide, 9.2 tons of volatile organic compounds, 1.9 tons of sulphur dioxide and 8.9 tons of hazardous air pollutants like mercury. Still, the agency considers the plant a "minor source" of pollution.
"It's still a lot of pollution by anyone's standard. Utah continues to hook itself to an old resource that is dying. To bolster an industry that is dying, when they could be looking at clean energy options to bolster the economy and create jobs, is so short sighted," said Tim Wagner of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. "It's another crazy project caught in a regulatory silo that fails to put it in large perspective of air quality, our state's carbon footprint and regional haze from Hunter and Huntington [coal-burning power plants]."
The DAQ rejected Wagner's request to extend the comment period to Jan. 30 and hold a second hearing in Salt Lake City. Willis said that after he requested the local public hearing last month, county officials called him to ask that he withdraw his request.
"They were concerned it would delay the process, which is ridiculous," Willis said. "If you have worked on it for three years and it's such a good thing, why not tell people about it?"
The proposed site is about two miles east of Wellington on U.S. Highway 6, opposite the Nine Mile Canyon exit. Willis said it is about 300 yards from a future subdivision.
The DAQ will accept public comment until Jan. 10. The hearing will be 6 p.m. at Wellington Elementary School, 250 W. 200 North, Wellington.