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Officials answer questions on proposed South Heart plant

SOUTH HEART -- While some area residents are puzzled about how the proposed $1.4 billion coal gasification plant by Great Northern Power Devel-opment L.P. works, officials with the company are still piecing the picture together.

SOUTH HEART -- While some area residents are puzzled about how the proposed $1.4 billion coal gasification plant by Great Northern Power Devel-opment L.P. works, officials with the company are still piecing the picture together.

For Neil and Laura Tangen, the possi-ble plant poses some concerns since their homestead south of town is near the biggest outlining mine area. Resi-dents Lucy and Frank Hurt are con-cerned since their home could be down wind of the plant itself, which is four miles south and two miles west of town.

Both couples have questions about how this plant and its mining area will affect their lives and livelihoods. Great Northern Vice President of Power De-velopment Richard Voss and others involved with the plant's planning proc-ess can answer most of the questions. But as the project is in its preliminary stages, planners still have work to do.

"Our numbers are still preliminary and we're still doing plant engineering," Voss said. "We're in our pre-FEED studies, which are Front End Engineer-ing and Development and must be done before the plant is built, permitted and so forth."

The project has already been through a major change since its inception. It originally was a coal-fired electrical generating plant proposal that has now switched to coal gasification. Despite this change, the Tangens and Hurts have questions about dust control, noise, odor and the technology to be used.

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Pieces of a puzzle

The couples want to know about spe-cific things such as dust and noise from trucks hauling coal.

Tangen said at the public meeting he attended in November 2006 put on by GNPD officials that Voss had talked about there being dust and noise.

"Mr. Voss said at that meeting there would be some dust, but no more than a car traveling down the gravel road, which I'm not sure about," Tangen said. "Mr. Voss also said the trucks would be 1,500 horsepower and there would be some noise. He said we'd get used to it, Laura made sure to write that down."

Voss said there is going to be some noise which cannot be avoided.

"To minimize the noise we are using the most modern mining equipment," Voss said. "There will be no drag line at this site and dozers will be used to remove the overburden. It will be a truck operation for hauling the coal, but not everything will be operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, only the dozers for the overburden removal."

Coal hauling is going to be only five days a week with two shifts a day, he added.

"Stripping topsoil will only be one shift a day, five days a week," Voss said. "We also will be using a combination of road dust control techniques."

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The main access road to the mining area will be paved, he added.

"We will be watering roads and will be using dust suppressants specifically designed for these mine road applica-tions," Voss said. "Other mines in the state use them; they are well proven and we are committed to keeping the dust down at all times."

Voss said the plant is to be laid out in units. The design for it isn't on paper yet. Beulah's former Dakota Gasification Plant Manager Al Lukes is a technical consultant for GNPD. He worked at the Beulah plant for 17 years living 10 miles east of the plant site. He worked with many other operations before retiring in 2006. He hopes to give valuable insight into the lessons learned in Beulah to further the project in South Heart.

"We've decided on the various pieces of the plant, but the puzzle's pieces have to be put together," Lukes said. "In all likelihood, it will look a lot similar to the Dakota Gasification Plant, but much smaller, about half size in terms of gasi-fiers used."

There is to be a number of buildings containing major equipment and distilla-tion towers, he added.

The FEED studies need to be com-pleted for the company to get an idea of how it all fits together. The studies are slated to be completed by March 2008, Voss said.

Equipment is to be stored on the plant's site, Voss said. Within the next few months they'll have an artist render-ing, he added.

"The reason we don't have it right now is because we just recently put together our optimum flow sheet where we know what we're going to build, and with that information we can begin to lay out the pieces and put them together in a logical fashion," Lukes said.

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The general project's mine area can be looked at as a block, with the town of South Heart on the east side. Then the area would start about a mile away west and run up to a half mile within a trans-mission substation. Running north-south, the mine area is just south of the railroad tracks which run about four miles north of the plant site. The plant is on the south side of the mining area.

Voss said there is a combination of things which led to the areas chosen for mining.

"Some of it has to do with balancing your loads and hauls with distances," Voss said. "Some of it has to do with drainages in the area too. The area we've chosen also has a lower profile, even lower than our original project had."

Since there final design is not yet done, Voss said it is hard to go into details at this time about the layout and design of the mining areas and the plant and their relationships to each other.

"We're not anticipating you can see the plant from the national park there," he added. "There will be areas where you could possible see it from Interstate 94."

No more smell

Since the Hurts' home could be close to the plant's proposed location, the couple is concerned about possible emitting smells and the technology used.

Laura Tangen has taken a tour of the Dakota Gas plant in Beulah and remem-bers its smell.

"It was the smell of rotten eggs when I even first came out of the bus," she said. "It was horrendous."

Voss said the smell won't be evident in the South Heart plant, which is due in large part to the work done in Beulah and elsewhere.

"Odor is one area where Al Lukes has really helped us," Voss said. "Al has been working with us as well as our engineer Willy Parsons on engineering out the odors."

Lukes knows where the odors come from, he added.

"Part of it has to do with the technol-ogy we're using, which is so improved and efficient now that a lot of odors generated by Dakota Gas won't be a factor here," Voss said. "We don't feel there will be an odor problem at all at South Heart."

Tangen said just saying the plant is state-of-the-art is a selling point and wants to know exactly how things will work.

A technology key component is the new gasifier to be used. The gasifier is called the British Gas LURGI, which was jointly created by Germany-based LURGI AG and Great Britain's British Gas engineers in the 1970s, Lukes said.

"They pooled their resources which would have been about $5 million today doing the research, but it was shelved due to energy prices not being there," Lukes said. "The BGL was developed specifically to make natural gas and was originally done for gas production in England, but the need wasn't there."

Dakota Gas used the gasifier called the LURGI Mark IV, which paved the way for more research during the past quar-ter century to create the BGL gasifier, Voss said.

"We've visited the plant in Germany and there are no odors there," Voss said. "Basically, the old gasifiers emitted a lot of tars and phenols from the process because they weren't very efficient. This new gasifier is more efficient when it comes to carbon conversion. It recircu-lates whatever tars and phenols come out and burns them."

There are no effluent emissions rela-tive to the gasifier's process, which Voss added is one of the problem for Dakota Gasfication at Beulah.

"Dakota Gas was a pilot plant in effect and has done a lot of research and im-provements," he said

The newer gasifier not only eliminates the odors, but also increases natural gas production by probably 50 percent when compared to older versions, Voss added.

"Over the years, the Electric Part Re-search Institute in the United States did a lot of work on economic studies on gasifiers, but none were economic and gasification wasn't viable," Lukes said. "As natural gas became more expensive, gasification became a reality and doable economically."

There are a variety of gasifiers avail-able commercially in the world today, but there are few that work on lignite coal, which is a special commodity, he added.

"Lignite coal has a low heating value, a lot of water and sodium which is a big issue for boiler and gasification," Lukes said. "It turns out the BGL is extremely tolerant of sodium and the variability posed by lignite, which is one of the main reasons why we selected it for the proc-ess here."

There are many opportunities in North Dakota and Montana for lignite coal, he added.

The plant in Germany uses lignite coal from its own location.

"Based on Al's knowledge and experi-ence on how the German coal performed he was given an indication on how it could work here," Voss said. "We've actually just sent some of our coal there for testing."

The German lignite coal is even of poorer quality than what is found in North Dakota, which also helped the men determine how local coal would be used, he added.

"One of the best things to do with lignite is to convert it to natural gas because transporting it as coal wouldn't be practical because it contains over one third water and you'd be paying freight on water," Lukes said. "The best thing to do is to convert it over to something easily transportable like natural gas."

The South Heart area is sitting on top of the Williston Basin pipeline, with the Northern Border pipeline close by, which makes it feasible to get rid of coal in the form of methane, he added.

"For this plant the location was right, the resource was there, the technology was available and applicable and the market was good," Lukes said. "Natural gas is selling for a high price and more and more utilities are switching to gas because of the difficulty of converting coal directly to electricity. We had all the right elements right here in western North Dakota to make this a success."

(Next: Concerns with roads, water and environmental impacts.)

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