Spencer County group protests $2.5B Dale plant


DALE — A group of concerned citizens voiced their opposition to a $2.5 billion direct coal-hydrogenation plant proposed for Dale at a standing-room-only Town Council meeting Tuesday night. The plant would be located on more than 500 acres recently annexed north of Dale between County Roads 2000 North and 2100 North and the old U.S. 231 and County Road 500 East.

“My biggest concern is that this is a controversial technology, it’s never been done in the United States before,” said Dr. Erin Marchand, a Dale-area resident, Santa Claus doctor and member of the Spencer County Citizens for Quality of Life group. “Some people would say, ‘We’ll be the first.’ But I think it speaks legions that it’s been attempted and never fully come to fruition.”

According to the proposed plant’s air permit application submitted to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, the plant would use Veba Combi Cracker technology licensed by the company Kellogg Brown and Root. Although plants using the technology have been proposed in the U.S. in the past, the technology is currently not used anywhere in the nation.

According to Riverview Energy, the company proposing the plant, the VCC process is used commercially in China and Russia and the “process starts with using pressure and heat (but not burning or gasifying) to liquify the coal, to which hydrogen is added to improve the quality of the fuel, and from there any waste residue and sulfur is removed from the resulting diesel fuel — making it an ultra-low-sulfur energy source.”

When the proposed plant was first announced earlier this year, Riverview Energy said 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 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.

Washington-based pediatrician Dr. Norma Kreilein told the council she is opposed to the plant because of the connection between pollution, air quality and public health. She’s concerned about the area’s children.

“(In this area) I see special ed (education) rates over 20 percent, which we shouldn’t see,” she said. “Infant mortality in Indiana is one of the highest in the country and it clusters to the pollution. Did you know that autism clusters to industrial pollution?”

She added: “I’m very, very concerned about bringing more of this to the area.”

Randy Vaal, a Santa Claus resident and retired chemical engineer who spent his career working for oil companies, is strongly against the building of the plant “because this plant is literally going to produce poison.”

“Several years of my work involved natural gas processing and I’m very familiar with the hard task of removing something called hydrogen sulfide from oil and gas,” Vaal said. “Hydrogen sulfide is a very deadly gas in the oil business and is a leading cause of workplace gas inhalation deaths in the United States. ... This plant will actually make it and produce it at high pressure and concentration.”

Greg Merle, president of Riverview Energy, rebutted Vaal’s claims in an emailed statement this morning, saying that during the VCC process, the sulfur is made into a solid, “so it will not be dispersed into the atmosphere.”

Vaal also worries about leaks at the plant.

“In my experience, any plant that has pipelines, valves, tanks, has leaks,” he said. “If a valve leaks, if a pipeline leaks, a storage tank leaks, then hydrogen sulfide leaks.”

Steve Hurm, director of training at the Boilermakers Local 374 Training Center in Dale, was the lone person who spoke in favor of the proposed project — although other union members attended the meeting — and said the union trains boilermakers to work on equipment at these types of plants.

“We’re trained for this,” he said. “We’re not using folks who don’t know what they’re doing ... We built this technology and it works.”

He added that the project will supply the area with high-paying jobs; Riverview Energy promoted last month “225 permanent high-skilled, good-paying jobs” and more than 2,000 construction jobs.

“I’m here in support of this plant,” Hurm said. “I’m here in support of the new technology involved with it. I’m here to support a new day for Dale.”

Merle said in today’s statement that his company chose Dale because “Indiana has a unique coal type that is ideal for the direct coal-hydrogenation process, and Dale is situated most closely to Indiana’s multiple coal-mining operations.”

“We see this clean-technology opportunity as a win-win for Dale, the state of Indiana and Riverview Energy,” he added.

Mary Hess, a Dale resident who has taken the lead of the Spencer County Citizens for Quality of Life group, said she and several other concerned citizens attended about six council meetings prior to Tuesday night in an effort to get more information about the proposed plant.

“We told them as much as we knew at the time,” said Ken Beasley, vice president of the council. He said the town had already been working on annexing the land for several years, before Riverview Energy ever came into the picture.

Hess said Spencer County Citizens for Quality of Life is “asking to be fully informed.”

The group has created a website, noc2d.com, where they list their concerns about the proposed plant and ask visitors to sign a petition.

To learn more about Riverview Energy, visit riverviewenergy.com.

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