Forum addresses proposed coal-to-diesel plant

Photos by Olivia Ingle/The Herald
Dr. Erin Marchand, a Dale resident and board-certified family physician in Santa Claus, told forum attendees Wednesday that southwest Indiana is already a polluted area and the proposed plant would only add to the pollution.


FERDINAND — Project Acorn — formed two years ago with a mission of wellness and enhancing quality of life in the area — hosted a forum Wednesday night at Forest Park Junior-Senior High School where the speakers sought to inform the audience of their understanding of a $2.5 billion direct-coal hydrogenation plant proposed for Dale.

Riverview Energy, based in Delaware, filed an air quality permit with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management in January for the plant, which would sit on more than 500 acres of land between Spencer County Roads 2000N and 2100N and the old U.S. 231 and Spencer County Road 500E on the north side of Dale, land that was annexed into the town last year.

According to Riverview Energy, the plant would be the first of its kind in the nation. It would not only convert coal into diesel fuel, but also would convert it into other products like Naphtha, which is used to produce products like plastics and gasoline. The company has claimed that the process will not burn or gasify coal and that the result will be “an ultra-low-sulfur energy source.”

The plant is expected to use 1.6 million tons of coal and produce 4.8 million barrels of clean diesel and 2.5 million barrels of Naphtha each year.

Wednesday’s forum was hosted by Project Acorn and sponsored by the Sierra Club and Southwestern Indiana Citizens for Quality of Life, groups that have publicly opposed the project due to economic, environmental and health reasons.

Mary Hess, president of the citizens group and a Dale resident, told nearly 200 forum attendees that if built, she would be able to see the plant from her kitchen window.

“I grew up and have lived in this area my entire life,” Hess said. “I have traveled to many places and come home to realize that I have so much of God’s creation in my own backyard to enjoy ... This plant will not only add to our health problems, it will affect our natural resources, and this in turn will affect our tourism that so enriches this area.”

Randy Vaal spent more than 30 years in the oil and gas industry in the Houston area.

Randy Vaal, a retired chemical engineer who was born and raised in Ferdinand and now lives in Santa Claus, spent more than 30 years in the oil and gas industry in the Houston area. One of his jobs was with Gulf Oil, which became Chevron, as a chemical engineer in charge of natural gas processing plants

“In many ways, a lot of units in a natural gas processing plant are similar to what we will be talking about in this gas plant, this coal-to-diesel plant,” Vaal said at the forum.

He believes the Dale project doesn’t make sense economically because the “future of oil is bleak,” and “the future of coal is even bleaker.”

He said cars are becoming more fuel-efficient and are using less gas every year. He added that electric cars and ride-sharing are even more common than before and autonomous vehicles are a technology of the future. He said several countries have already announced intention to end the sale of vehicles that use gasoline or diesel.

As global demand for oil decreases, he said, prices are going to drop, making the proposed plant even less economical.

He then cited several energy companies, such as AEP and Vectren, who have said they are either closing some coal plants or that they aren’t going to build any others.

“Coal is not the future, as much as this area would like it to be,” Vaal said. “Coal has seen it’s day, in my opinion.”

Vaal has studied Riverview Energy’s air quality permit extensively and said the plant will first turn the coal into dust. Coal dust, he said, can cause black lung disease and explosions, and has been responsible for “some of the worst mining accidents in history.”

He said another part of the process will produce hydrogen sulfide at a high temperature and pressure and turn it into sulfur. Hydrogen sulfide, he said, has been “responsible for many deaths in my former industry — oil and gas.”

“That’s a well-known process, but it’s not foolproof,” he said of turning hydrogen sulfide into sulfur. “Anytime you have (hydrogen sulfide) and sulfur, you’re going to have the risk of hydrogen sulfide poisoning. You’re also going to have a smell associated with hydrogen sulfide, which is like rotten eggs. They can claim all they want that it’s not going to smell, but it’s going to smell.”

Vaal also worries about the plant’s greenhouse gas emissions as he said the air permit lists no plans to minimize carbon dioxide emissions and the document indicates the plant will flare sulfur dioxide.

Dr. Erin Marchand, a Dale resident and board-certified family physician in Santa Claus, told forum attendees that southwest Indiana is already a polluted area and the proposed plant would only add to the pollution.

She said studies show that pollution causes cancer and is associated with preterm birth, infant mortality, deficits in lung growth, heart attacks, strokes, asthma and COPD.

She worries about the proposed location for the plant and its proximity to an elementary school and nursing home in Dale, citing a statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics that says: “Numerous studies are finding important health effects from air pollution at levels once considered safe.”

“Even if they are meeting the minimum, it doesn’t mean it can’t harm us or our children,” Marchand said.

The Dale Town Council approved industrial zoning for the proposed Riverview Energy site at a meeting in April. The next step will be an IDEM public hearing. The date for that hearing has not yet been set, as the air quality permit application submitted to the state agency is still being processed, according to a search on the agency’s website.

To learn more about Riverview Energy, visit

Learn more about Southwestern Indiana Citizens for Quality of Life at

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