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Locations of Gas Plants and Other Coal-tar Sites in the U.S.

THE STATE OF ALASKA

Introduction

            Those who are fascinated with the technologies and history of manufactured gas soon become curious over whether or not gas was ever manufactured in Alaska. The obscure answer is “yes,” but the facts are difficult to locate and to ascertain.
 
            Given the vastness of its land area, its great distances and historically sparse populations it is logical that the extreme coldness of temperature and overwhelming periods of seasonal darkness would constitute a crying need for gas, both for lighting and for heating.
 
            Most of the parameters of difficulties are summed up in a 1915 letter to the trade journal The Gas Industry (April, p. 293) sent by one G. R. Larkin, at the Skagway gasworks, and formerly of the Pittsfield Gas Co., Massachusetts. This letter was obviously written as tongue-in-cheek humor, but it is presented in quote as a means of setting the flavor of the topic at hand.
 
            “We don’t use gas mains here nor service pipes, but, because of the fact that gas freezes immediately upon production, we cut in chunks and sell it as you would ice.
We have a gas holder, but it is similar to your ice houses; while men go about with axe and tongs rather than with wrench and cutter. Another economical discovery has been the use of ice as fuel. By the aid of the hot air, which our men throw out, the ice is decomposed, giving off a quality of gas far superior to anything known in Pittsfield. We are constantly hiring men for this work.
                             - Yours till Skagway thaws, G. R. Larkin.”
 
            It makes considerable sense that the forested areas of the State, proximate to population centers, would have been the scene of wood-gas plants. None have yet come to the author’s attention, though Juneau, in the Alaskan Panhandle, would seem to present a near-perfect opportunity. However, wherever permafrost was present, however, the costs of excavating pipe distribution trenches to an appropriate depth of protection, would have been considerable, and thus, it would be proper to expect that any Alaskan town gas plants would have been closely position to the Central Business District and that the area of distribution would have been rather constrained at any Alaskan location.
 
            Some candidates for gas-manufacturing sites have been uncovered in the course of general environmental restoration activities, though no connection with manufactured gas has been made by parties to such remediation. In particular, the ALASCOM communications station adjacent to the Nome Prison, yielded “800 gallons of coal tar and heavy fuel oil,” in 1991. Around the same time, development of the Odiak Park subdivision, along Chase Street, in Cordova, was a military staging area on the Copper River Railroad (Kennecott Corporation), in the vicinity of the Roundhouse and rail yard, where “heavy, black oil,” was found in utility trenches and in other excavations.
 
            As a consequence of transportation difficulties, the present-day preferred form of “natural” gas actually is provided as reconstituted liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) distributed by truck from Anchorage, to Fairbanks, where it is piped to a limited consumer base, and about 30 percent less in cost than the more appropriate sub-arctic fuel, oil.
 In summary, the Professor Hatheway finds reason to expect future encounters with a variety of small Alaskan manufactured gas plants of the following varieties:  wood gas, coal gas, oil gas, and producer gas. Their residuals and wastes will approximate the usual culprits.

Click the blue "EPA" link below to view the
 Alaska map of the EPA 1985 Radian FMGP Report.

Click the green "Hatheway" link below to view the
 Alaska map of Professor Hatheway's research.

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