Today the Powder River Basin Resource Council (Resource Council) released a new report, “Lessons from History: Wyoming’s 30 Years of Failed Coal Upgrading Projects,” which traces the state’s legacy of coal upgrading projects from the 1980s to the present. The Resource Council researched sixteen different public and private projects that were attempted during the past thirty years and found that only one successfully created a marketable product. The report offers the fifteen failed projects as evidence that the time and money dedicated to these coal upgrading projects have not stemmed coal’s declining market.
“For 30 years, Wyoming has pumped money and support into a string of failed schemes aimed at propping up coal mining, at the expense of modernizing the state’s economy and tax structure. These efforts have wasted hundreds of millions of dollars and led to the public bearing the cleanup costs of several futile projects,” said Bob LeResche, an editor of the report and Resource Council Board Member. “Worst of all, false hopes raised by these projects have led to complacency among policymakers who should have been planning for the future. With the false hope for a silver bullet, no one faced our real need for transition, and now the state is facing a dire situation.”
The sixteen coal upgrading projects in the report were all aimed at either enhancing the value of coal as fuel for electrical generation or creating new uses for coal. All of them sought to increase coal’s marketability through a handful of methods, including coal drying, coal-to-liquids, gasification, coal to activated carbon, and coal to carbon fiber. A few of the projects, though they received funding, were never even built, such as Char Fuel’s coal-to-liquid plant, the High Plains Gasification Research Facility, and the Hampshire Energy Synfuels Plant.
Other projects managed to start up only to experience environmental problems that required clean up, some of it at taxpayer expense. Both the Rocky Mountain 1 and Hoe Creek underground gasification ventures led to environmental contamination. Hoe Creek’s test site released a stream of benzene into a freshwater aquifer, and subsequently became a superfund site. Linc Energy’s underground gasification enterprise was another highly anticipated project, but the company was charged with willfully causing environmental harm for the same type of project in Australia and later declared bankruptcy.
The Resource Council’s report states that the coal market is steadily declining outside of Wyoming, and the state needs to figure out how to adapt to create a more sustainable future. Time and money spent now trying to save coal is time and money that better could be invested in systemic changes to Wyoming’s tax system and our economic base. For the state going forward, it is essential that Wyoming leaders face the truth about the changes that are occurring and the fact that coal is not going to make a miraculous comeback. Otherwise Wyoming will continue to throw good money after bad. Case in point, the 2020 Wyoming Legislature has earmarked another $7 million in the University of Wyoming’s budget for “coal beneficiation,” or simply put, coal upgrading, along with research to transform coal into construction or asphalt paving materials or agricultural fertilizers.
“Overall, one of the worst outcomes of this failed legacy is the lost opportunity. As a state, we could have funneled this time, money, and energy into diversifying our economy so that we would be experiencing community stability and economic growth instead of suffering the consequences of fiscal neglect,” said Marcia Westkott, Resource Council Chair.
For more information on the report, contact the Resource Council at 307-672-5809 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.