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

THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA 

Introduction:     (see maps at bottom of this page)

Click HERE for the full California report.
The full California MG report was produced on a University of Missouri research grant from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) with the provision that the findings be made available to the professions and the general public, as a peer-reviewed technical paper.  The format utilized in this paper has been generally maintained by Dr. Hatheway in his subsequent writings related to State, Provincial and foreign national summaries, which he releases from time to time in the peer-reviewed literature.  It is his intent to provide a common, standard basis for reporting the history and existence of all manner of coal-tar sites as an assistance to persons and agencies interested in bringing forth accurate and comprehensive remediation of these threats to public and environmental health and safety.      685 KB PDF

                 Manufactured gas arrived in 1854, with the Donohues, three Irish- American foundry tradesmen at San Francisco. Coal was virtually non-existent on the west coast at the time and this and subsequent gas works initially were fired and fed on coal imported at great cost from Australia. Gas rates were the highest ever experienced in the country, $15.00/1000 cf. Crude oil, however, was plentiful, even as surface seeps and the country-side was the scene of many alternative attempts at gas manufacture perhaps 30 years before the arrival of Leon P. Lowe (1889) with his patented and functional oil-gas method. The State was characterized by long distances an onerous railroad monopoly (at least north to south) of the Southern Pacific Railroad and many growing and otherwise (outside of rail rates) prosperous farming communities. Many Mother Lode gold mining camps had decent cash flow and small gas works began appearing in places like Nevada City, Grass Valley and Jackson in the mid 1870s. These small works pyrolyzed a variety of semi-bituminous California coals and any other usable organic materials, including rosin, pitchwood, and grape pomice. Coal was discovered at Mt. Diablo (east of San Francisco Bay) in 1852, but all deposits discovered by 1890 were lignite in character and regarded as inferior to coals regularly imported from British Columbia, Australia, Japan, and the British Isles. By 1875 coal known to exist in Shasta County, recently discovered (1874) beds in Monterey County, the Lincoln Mine in Placer County was under development, and at Ione Valley in Amador County. Coal additionally was reported to exist in Butte and Colusa Counties. Even with the presence of transcontinental rail lines the 1890 importation of anthracite and bituminous coal was only 18,950 short tons. (Engr. & Min. Jour., 04Apr, 1891, p. 403).

             The small gas plants stubbornly adhered to coal until finally being purchased by holding companies and retired in favor of short-line gas transmission. In 1870, the State Legislature passed an open-franchise law that wildly fed manufactured gas competition, especially in San Francisco.

             By 1875, and due to the growing eminence of California cereal agriculture, gas making coals were imported from any location on the planet from which return loads were paying. Consequently, today’s remediation wastes vary widely, even at individual gas plant sites, reflecting the spot-market coal commodity prices of the month and year. Further market influences by 1900 were felt by the passing of the sailing ship and the rising role of tramps among the steamship freight trade.

             Carburetted water gas technology arrived in the mid-1870s in the form of free-lance salesmen of T.S.C. Lowe, with generators shipped from Lowe’s Norristown, PA plant, and shortly afterward from the United Gas Improvement Co. (U.G.I.), of Philadelphia, on purchase of Lowe’s patents. It was in California that experiment early drove away from Lowe’s intended use of anthracite or coke as the desired reactor bed material, and thereby introducing the associated tar-water emulsion problems of waste management.

             Oil gas gained in ascendancy by about 1900 and the newly-formed Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) was created in 1905 and bought the younger Lowe’s oil-gas patents, then turned to manufacturing and installing its own versions (Patent of its Chief Engineer, E.C. Jones) of generators designed to utilize crude oil as the feedstock. PG&E was always an operating entity, though its size early placed it in the utility holding company class by about 1910.

             In the south, population growth and the broad flatness of the Los Angeles basin led to the formation of only small outlying and less prosperous agricultural communities until after the turn of the century. By this time coal-gas had not developed into a major gas-generation process and mid-size holding companies rose and created a network of gas distribution from central stations, but not with the concentrated trend to competition, except at Long Beach, which elected to develop a “Competitive District” that was served by five gas companies. Los Angeles developed in to the popular City-County government system of the West and was broadly served by low-competition from central stations and mid-pressure gas distribution.

             Natural gas was first distributed in Southern California by the Ventura County Power Company in 1904. Natural gas was introduced to Los Angeles County from local oil fields at Fullerton (Los Angeles basin) and Midway (southern San Joaquin Valley) about 1913 and beginning in about 1916, the supply was increased materially, being used to serve the beach towns, as well as Los Angeles. Testimony before the California Railroad Commission in 1918 (by producers Southern California Gas Company and the Midway Gas Company) had this at 28,000,000 cf/day in 1916 with a 1919 expectation of a total of 42,000,000 cf/day. The gas was divided about equally between, Los Angeles Gas & Electric Corporation and Southern California Gas Company). Reliable quantities of natal gas were achieved by 1926 and total conversion of Los Angeles occurred early in 1927, Santa Barbara in 1928, San Francisco 1929 and San Diego, 1932 (Western Gas, Jan 1935). By 1934 manufactured gas was down to 0.5 percent of the supplies distributed in California.

            Quality was quite another story as reported by the Joint Committee on Efficiency and Economy of Gas, of the California Railroad Commission (1924), in which it was stated that:

                 “Many utilities supplying natural gas still contend that it is unnecessary for them to make regular determinations of the
                  heating value of their product. Due, however, to the extremely variable charter of the natural gas found in California fields
                  it is believed by the Commission that this is necessary.”

                 “The companies in Southern California obtain gas from widely separated fields and they interchange this case in such a
                  way that at no time can there be any certainty as to the quality of t he gas then being delivered.’ (p. 19).

            The Southern California regional gas giant became Pacific Lighting Corporation, created in 1886, with San Francisco money coming from PGI. In time PLC consumed the intermediate manufactured gas conglomerates, Southern California Gas Company and Southern Counties Gas Company. Throughout the State, the large companies came to take over the small plants as well as the eastern manufactured gas trusts. California has more than 288 FMGPs sites (Hatheway, 1999).

            Carburetted water gas had a brief flare of popularity, due to the presence of T.S.C. Lowe, at Pasadena. Lowe arrived in California in 1887 and did not restrain his huge energies. He was backed by the 1889 arrival of son Leon, inventor of modern oil gas. Carburetted water gas, however, still faced the onerous freight taxation of the Southern Pacific Railroad and the cheaper competitive base of oil gas.

            San Francisco went through a rash of gas development following the 1870 State legislation allowing free and open manufactured gas competition. Eventually, more than 25 manufactured gas companies, of all sizes, dotted the San Francisco peninsula. By the early 1890s these companies had largely merged. The master stroke of unification came after 1905 with formation of the Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E), using quiet eastern money and today affiliated with what is believed to be the largest number of American FMGPs assignable to remediation responsibility. The author believes there to have been a minimum of 24 manufactured gas plants in San Francisco alone, for the years 1854-1915. Natural gas did not arrive in the Bay area until 1929.

            By 1893 (?) entrepreneurs John Martin and Eugene de Sabla, Jr. took full note of the vast hydroelectric potential of the Sierra Nevada range and began to form the California Gas & Electric Company network. This growth flourished and out of it came the Pacific Gas & Electric Company, in October 1905. Edward Campbell Jones was acquired with the San Francisco Gas & Electric Company in 1903. Jones thereafter was the voice, spirit and conscience of West-coast manufactured gas and it was from his huge initiative that had sprung the Pacific Coast Gas Association in 1893. PG&E went to its knees in just six months, with the hammering effect of the Great San Francisco earthquake of 19 April 1906. The company was to survive and to do so handsomely, with the quick and plentiful assistance of New York capital, but founders de Sabla and Martin faded quickly to obscurity, as shown by the Annual Reports to the California Railroad Commission. Their directorship positions were terminated in 1913, under the newly-initiated Presidency of Wigginton Creed, the Oakland lawyer appointed by retiring President Frank Drum, the San Francisco entrepreneur with New York financial connections, and Vice President A.F. Hockenbeamer, the young New York City accountant sent out with the rescue money in financial panic of 1907.

           Hatheway (1999) has separately accounted for the rich and complicated history of manufactured gas in California, and has presented the general locations of some 387 former manufactured gas plants and other coal-tar sites in that State:
    Hatheway, A.W., 1999, Manufactured Gas in California (1852-1940); Basis for Remedial Action: American
    Soc. Civil Engrs., Practice Periodical in Hazardous, Toxic and Radioactive Wastes, v. 3 no. 3 (July), p. 132-146.

 

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

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

Copyright © 2012  by Dr. Allen W. Hatheway    All rights reserved.
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