A proposal to build a plant that would transform Pennsylvania’s cheap, abundant natural gas into more expensive motor fuel is generating controversy in Berks County. If built, the gas-to-liquids (GTL) plant would be one of the first facilities of its kind in the United States.
But industry analysts say there’s a reason these kinds of plants are so rare– the economics often don’t make a lot of sense.
“Homes all around”
Jen Byrne watches and worries as children run around the playground behind the day care she owns. If the plant is built in South Heidelberg Township, it would be—literally–in her backyard.
“I thought there’s no way they’d put that right there,” she says, looking out at the empty lot. “We have all these children here. There’s homes all around. My biggest concern is air and water pollution.”
The idea behind the GTL facility is to transform Pennsylvania’s natural gas into expensive liquid motor fuel–it would produce gasoline that can go right into a car.
The facility is projected to cost $800 million to $1 billion and produce about 500,000 gallons per day of gasoline and liquid petroleum. It’s planned for a 63-acre site about 10 miles west of Reading. Although the land is zoned for light industrial uses, it’s currently an empty field surrounded by residential neighborhoods.
Once word got out about the plans, a concerned citizens group quickly organized. They printed up bright red “Stop the gas refinery” yard signs, t-shirts, and flyers. Nearly 300 people attended a recent meeting hosted by the group.
A Canadian developer, EmberClear, is seeking to develop the GTL plant. Jim Palumbo is a project manager for the company. He says the plant will create about 150 permanent jobs.
“We have an abundance of natural gas in the state. It makes all the sense in the world to use it in some fashion,” he says. “We want to be good neighbors. We don’t want to do something that would be a detriment to the neighborhood.”