Tuesday, January 22, 2008

C.J. Barton, Sr: Project Independence

Introduction: Following the end of the Gasbuggy project, my father was not assigned to another research project. As a senior scientist he was viewed as an appropriate representative of ORNL. One of his assignments took him to Philadelphia for Project Independence hearings. Project Independence came as almost the last gasp of the discredited Nixon Administration., althought the Ford Administration tried to carry the project out. Needless to say, Project Independence failed, and American energy policy lacked direction for the next generation.

The discussion of coal probably did not sit well with him. Before he left ORNL he was highly critical of the use of coal in electrical generation. This must be viewed as growing out of his research because my father had no personal reason to object to coal. He had grown up in Jellico, Tennessee, a small commercial center for coal mines in North East Tennessee and South East Kentucky. Both my father and my mother had brothers in the coal industry. My father's assesment of the danger of radon in natural gas, undoubtedly colored his thinking about radioisotopes and other toxic minerals in coal.

This hearing was part of the process in which coal was chosen over nuclear power as the predominate source of energy for electrical generation in the United States. The politics of that choice was clearly in play at the Philadelphia hearing my father attended.



October 10, 1974

To: E. G. Struxness

From: C. J. Barton

Subject: Project Independence (PI) Public Hearings in Philadelphia or an Ax Grinders· Convention in the City of Brotherly Love

General Comments

Before attending the PI hearings in Philadelphia, the 9th in the series of 10 such hearings being held, I referred to it by the above subtitle and nothing I heard at the hearings changed my opinion. The purpose of PI and the public hearings is set forth in the attached statements. The general format consisted of 10-minute statements (governors and United States senators excepted) by witnesses followed by questions from a four-man panel made up mostly of federal officials of varying rank. The opening session Monday morning was the only one attended by the top rank (Sawhill, Train, Peterson). Questions or comments from the audience were not allowed. The witnesses were per­mitted to submit longer statements for the record of the hearings. Handouts obtained include “Environmental Effects of Eastern Coal Development,” “Environmental Effects of Alaskan Oil Development,” "Fact Sheet on the Outer Continental Shelf," and "Fact Sheet on Solar Energy." Copies of these documents will be furnished on request. I feel that attendance at the hearings increased my understanding of the problems of the coal and other industries in meeting government regulations.


Most of the witnesses that I heard in the 2-2/3-day part of the hearings that I attended stuck pretty close to one or both of the themes of the Philadelphia hearings. By the third day, much of the facts or opinions expressed by some speakers had been heard before; so it was a good time to leave.

Eastern Coal

Problems of the Eastern Coal industry were discussed by many speakers. These seemed to fall into five main categories: government regulations, capital requirements for new mines, manpower requirements, availability of machinery, and transportation. The last four are non­controversial, but uncertainties in regard to future requirements of the Clean Air Act were said to be a deterrent to financing new mines ($20 to 40 million). As Arch Moore, Governor of West Virginia, ex­pressed it, “You can't love coal today and forget it tomorrow.” He also said that there is nothing more worthless than a nonproducing coal mine. He recommended government guarantees of mine investments.

On the manpower problem, Moore stated that 6000 more miners could be used right now in his state if they were available. Recruitment and training programs are either underway or planned to alleviate this man­power shortage. Another speaker stated that miners can now earn $18,000/year with some overtime. It was stated that 2 to 6 years may be required to obtain the complex machinery needed for underground min­ing, but this is apparently not considered a major problem. The transportation problem was mentioned by several speakers. Lack of availability of coal hoppers is limiting production at some mines, and needed improvements in roadbeds were also mentioned. There was comparatively little discussion of this problem and less on the solution to it.

Differences of opinion on government regulations between industry representatives and federal government offiicals were quite evident. These regulations include the 1969 health and safety law, strip mining, and air purity requirements. Problems in this area were said to be compounded by lack of clarity of the laws and lack of consistency in their application. The mine health and safety law put many small producers out of business, and it is causing problems for the big mines as well. Edgar Speer, chairman of United States Steel Corporation, cited a drop in coal production from 14 tons to 10 tons/manshift following passage of the law. In regard to strip mining, industry representatives seemed to be waiting for the shoe to drop in Washington.

The gamut of views included the belief that there is no acceptable way of strip mining coal and the thought that this is the only hope for an early increase in coal production.

As might be expected, the regulation that is causing coal users the greatest problem, the limit on S02 emissions or air concentration, got a lot of attention. One speaker stated that the Clean Air Act represents overkill. Although the TVA was not represented, other utility representatives voiced the TVA viewpoint that ground-level air concentration should be the controlling factor rather than the amount of S02 emitted. EPA representatives cited the lIacid rainll problem and other evidence of S02 damage to the environment in support of their policy of limiting the S content of fuels, regardless of the height of the stack through which the combustion products are discharged. As one speaker expressed it, “Pollution dilution is not the solution to our energy problem.” Environmentalists felt that S02 requirements should be tightened, while utility and coal industry people pleaded for a loosening of regulations, including greater flexibility than is now allowed and a delay of several years in application of stricter limits. They strongly maintained that stack scrubbers for control of S02 emissions are not ready for installation, while EPA maintains that they are ready.

It was quite clear from the numerous discussions of the problems of the coal industry that increased production of Eastern Coal will not be quickly or cheaply obtained and is not likely to have a major effect on our energy shortage over the next several years. In the period from approximately 1980 to 2000, the general view seemed to be that heavy reliance should be placed on coal as an energy source because of the tremendous reserves that are available. Minimization of the impact on the environment of increased coal production and use will require a lot of money for R & 0, for emission controls, and for land recla­mation.

Alternate Energy Sources and Their Environmental Effects

Divergent viewpoints on energy sources other than coal were much
in evidence. Opponents of nuclear power reactors were better repre­sented than proponents. For example, Coleman Raphael, President of Atlantic Research Corporation, stated that the radioactive waste problem is insoluble and that uranium supplies will be exhausted in 30 years. He cited the tons of plutonium that will be produced by reactors as the largest threat to mankind. A later witness, William Steigelman of the Franklin Institute, in response to a question from the panel, refuted Raphael's statement about waste disposal and pointed out that plutonium will be recycled and used as fuel. Unfortunately, this witness tarnished his credibility, in my view, by stating that the long-lived isotopes can be “burned up” in nuclear reactors, While this statement is correct, there must be cheaper solutions to the problem. Raphael's solution to the long-term energy problem is solar energy. He stated that enough energy falls on 2% of the area of Texas to supply all the energy needs of the United States. He didn't discuss the environmental effects of covering 5000 square miles of land and a few other problems such as the amounts of energy-intensive metals required to collect the solar energy. Other speakers took a more practical approach to solar energy and advocated solar energy for home heating and air conditioning and similar applications to larger buildings. Economical production of electricity and energy storage on a practical level are apparently a long way down the road.

A representative of a company called Sea Solar Power described their approach to solving the energy problem. It utilizes the tem­perature differential between warm surface water and the colder water several hundred feet below the surface. He claimed that sea thermal power will provide electricity, fuel, and freshwater without polluting the environment. A small demonstration plant is under construction.

I understand that there are a few engineering details to be worked out before this concept reaches commercial viability, but these were glossed over in the presentation.

A representative of Alaskan Arctic Pipeline Company described the extensive environmental studies made of the possible environmental ef­fects of the construction and operation of a pipeline to bring gas from Alaska to the lower 40 states. He stated that this would be the largest construction project in history. Federal Power Commission approval for this pipeline which would increase United States gas supplies initially by 5 or 6% has not been received.


Various methods of conserving energy in general and oil in par­ticular were discussed. John Sawhill supports construction of more nuclear reactors to meet our growing electricity needs. He stated that there is general agreement on the need to cut down on gas01ine consump­tion, but it was quite evident that agreement on the best ways to bring this about was lacking. The proposed increase in gasoline tax designed to decrease gasoline consumption and increase use of urban transit sys­tems was a bone of contention. Politician types from the United States Senator level to city mayor were sharply critical of the proposal, while federal officials on the panel were following the “party line” (which was reversed by President Ford later in the week) and support­ing the proposal.

Several industry representatives cited efforts of their companies to effect energy savings, and it was apparent that significant increases in efficiency can be achieved by thorough-going programs. Further savings, in some industries, will require substantial capital invest­ments. An interesting sidelight is the fact that United States Steel requires 36 million Btu/ton of steel shipped, while Armco uses 27 million. The difference can presumably be accounted for by the high fraction of scrap used by Armco (40% of total production). Thirteen million Btu/ton are consumed in converting iron ore to metal. The steel industry is substituting coal for gas and oil wherever it is possible to do so. In general, the big companies have their own coal mines. United States Steel sells as many Btu's as they buy.

Russell Peterson, Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality, tried to give conservation a local flavor by paraphrasing Benjamin Franklin, “A Btu saved is a Btu earned.” Governor Shapp (Pennsylvania) stated that Franklin wouldn't have said that because he didn't like the British.

Miscellaneous Comments

Of the three United States senators who spoke during the Monday morning session (Scott and Schweiker, Pennsylvania and Biden, Delaware), I was most impressed by Biden. He is young, intelligent, and highly articulate. I also learned that Governor Shapp's background is in engineering, and it was not completely obscured by the political flavor of his speech. He and several other speakers emphasized the need to reduce the impact of increasing energy costs on poor people. An energy stamp program possibly supplementing the existing food stamp program, seemed to be the most likely way of dealing with this problem.

A.V. Grosse, Mayor's Council of Science and Technology, City of Philadelphia, made an interesting comparison of the amount of excava­tion required to replace the 10 million barrels per day of imported oil expected in 1980 with lignite or oil from oil shale. He stated that 240 million yd3 were excavated in digging the Panama Canal. To provide the 2 billion tons/year of lignite needed, we would need to dig the equivalent of 11 Panama Canals/year. Only 0.5 Panama Canal would need to be dug to provide the same amount of energy from oil shale, accord­ing to Grosse's calculations. Grosse also suggested that we should trade our knowhow to make the Arab's deserts bloom for their oil. Tom Fa1kie, Bureau of Mines Director, stated that some high-level exchanges with Saudi Arabia are in progress.


If the other nine Project Independence Public Hearings generated as much testimony and controversy as the one I attended, the staff of the Federal Energy Administration and other officials who are charged with the task of providing the blueprint for Project Independence cer­tainly have a huge amount of material and sharply divergent views to consider. The social and economic consequences of Project Independ­ence as well as its environmental effects need to be weighed carefully. Increased coal use can significantly reduce our need for imported oil, but it will not be quickly or cheaply obtained by mining Eastern Coal. It is clear that the long-needed national energy policy that the Project Independence blueprint presumably will represent cannot please everyone. Complete independence of imported oil may not be economically or politically desirable.

C.J. Barton
Environmental Sciences Division

Attachments 2
cc: S. V. Kaye
S. 1. Auerbach
J. A. Blasy
J. O. Duguid
File (3)

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