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

THE STATE OF NEW YORK

Introduction              Click here to read about New York City gas plants

           As with all that is New York, the State and the City remain two wholly separate phenomena.

           As in most States, New York experienced at least some control of topography and resources in the establishment and growth of its manufactured gas industry. In New York, these influences were the presence of the navigable Hudson River, joining at Schenectady with the Erie Canal. A general lack of coal and an early absence of natural gas caused the gas industry to employ at first, fatwood and various forms of resin, a feedstock first used at New York City. Added to this was a heavy industry and industrial technology that once was New York City. In fact, there never was any serious restriction to the growth of manufactured gas in this State. All of the financial and technical backing was present from the very beginning in “The Big Apple,” including one of the world’s foremost gas chemists, Prof. Dr. Charles F. Chandler, at Columbia College (formerly King’s College and later, Columbia University).

Even with the devastating impacts of the 1935 Federal “Death Sentence” clause, the new, authorized intrastate utility holding companies were able to realign themselves. In fact, Niagara Hudson Corporation was allowed to merge 12 operating gas and electric properties and to issue $100 million in expansion and extension projects in the period 1937-1942.

In terms of shear production capacity of manufactured gas and of its toxic wastes, the leading cities outside of New York City, have been Buffalo, Rochester, Schenectady, Syracuse and Troy.

From about 1845, history shows that one or more new gas works per year were established in New York up to the Civil War. This represents the filling-in of gas service along the establish river, canal and initial rail network of the State. Most of these gas works operated with fatwood or wood resin until about 1860. Thereafter the rate of establishment of gas plants increased, and a mix of gas processes were in play, dominated by coal gas, until carbureted water gas began its ascendancy in the late 1880s.

             Consolidation of New York Gas Companies

            Consolidation of New York gas companies appears to have begun somewhat later than in other States, largely because New York’s larger cities did not rival the populations of those larger Midwest cities where consolidation activities originated and were earlier and more prevalent. Albany, for instance, was not consolidated until 1899.

            Another outstanding growth influence, however was that of the new utility holding companies, including UGI, of Philadelphia, originating the concept in 1882. UGI became highly emulated by financiers beginning in the mid-1890s. However, by 1890, UGI was present in the Bronx and in Westchester County, colonizing ahead of the obviously expanding Consolidated Gas Company of New York City. UGI apparently predicted its moves and that Con Gas would eventually press to buy their holdings in the territory immediately north of the New York City boroughs. Such was a correct tactic.  UGI’s early Westchester County activities were covertly conducted by its subsidiary, the American Gas Company.

A prime causation of the existence of multiple gas plants in the larger cities came through the activities of “opposition” companies, the first of which appeared in 1860 at Troy, and were followed in 1864 at the “Queen City,” Buffalo.  At Buffalo, the multiple gas works also include a bevy of coke ovens, as was the case at Rochester, together the most confusing array of gas plants outside of New York City. The real surge in coke ovens, however, came after 1890, as by-product plants, modeled on the first such U.S. plant, constructed at Syracuse in that year.

            As the 20th century approached, a new wave, as elsewhere in America, of gas plants emerged,  mostly carbureted water gas (CWG) plants aimed mainly at expanding residential gas service. At the same time the gas industry was pushing fuel gas as well and some of the new gas works recognized the basic incompatibility of selling fuel gas to industry as contrasted with expanding residential service.

            To these interests should be added the need for manufactured gas as a fuel for urban and interurban transit power, another wave of market potential. This market, especially in New York bought the railroads to ownership of many gas plants, some for the purposes of transit power and others to provide fuel gas for the State’s many rail yards and shops.

                             Institutional Gas Plants of New York

             The usual, and mostly forgotten genre of institutional gas plants are to be expected across New York. These locations include State and private schools, asylums, hospitals, penitentiaries, military posts, soldiers homes, monasteries, and mansions and country estates, to mention a few. Most of these began to appear with the 1890s.

                             Holding Companies in New York State

             This State undeniably had the greatest concentration of utility holding companies, either headquartered here or buying, operating and trading such. Holding company activity was introduced in 1890 by UGI and slowly ramped up to about 1910 when there was an upsurge to the wild activity of the 1920s. The latest in a long series of ownership transitions has been the 2001 British acquisition by National Grid Transco, PLC, wherein the many gas plants of the Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation have new topside leaders for its FMGP remediation obligations.

                             Municipal Gas Plants of New York

            New York had a high degree of involvement with municipal gas plants, but as everywhere else in America, the experiment was not a lasting success. In 1899, the movement cropped up at Buffalo, coincidental with incorporation of another opposition company, indicating a general citizen dissatisfaction with the status of gas service at the time.

            Attica, transferred to municipal gas service in 1918, even with natural gas wells in place, but requiring $40,000 of additional investment in order to meet extension requirements of the citizens. In 1927 the City of Kenmore sold its municipal gas plant to a holding company, leaving the last remaining New York municipal plant at Bath, which was noted to be supplying 0.001 of manufactured gas consumed in the State.

                              Gas Regulation in New York

            New  York’s first  State utility regulation came in 1905, with the creation of a temporary State Commission of Gas & Electricity, which was replaced in 18 months by the Public Service Commission, operating in two Districts; District One for upstate New York, and District Two for New York City. During WWI, the Commission dealt with much perturbation over gas rates, and in response to war time coal, coke, and gas oil shortages and of coal miners strikes.

                               Alternative Gas Processes in New York

             A great array of “coal tar” sites await remedial investigation in New York. Some of the many examples defining this spectrum include:

·                     Coal-tar distillation (Buffalo, 1857).

·                     By-product coke oven plants (beginning in 1890;

in 1900, at Batavia, producing gas used to fire

Westinghouse gas engines for generation of

electricity; in the 1920s on the Hudson River.

United Otto Company active as an American

subsidiary and constructors of the Lackawanna Steel

Company ovens at Buffalo; ca. 1915, Union By-Products

Coke Co., Buffalo; pre-1920: Semet-Solvay coke ovens,

Buffalo; pre-1920: Donner-Hanna Coke Corp., Buffalo;

pre-1920: Shenango Ingot Co.; pre-1920, Koppers

by-product coke ovens at Buffalo; 1920, Coke ovens

at Border City, as merchant plant for distribution

to nearby cities.

·                     Traction trolley lines use of manufactured gas at Buffalo (1912).

·                     Beehive charcoal kilns (Chateaugay Lake) for local

bloomery forges (1890).

·                     Numerous producer gas plants at industrial facilities (from 1890).

·                     Acetylene companies offering equipment and

construction, such as 20th Century Acetylene Gas

Company of Buffalo (Inc. 1902) and Rush

Acetylene Gas Generator Co., Canandaigua (1907).

                               Natural Gas in New York State

            As long as there has been manufactured gas in New York State there has been natural gas. This strange situation stems from the existence of minor gas fields bordering Lake Erie, particularly in Chautauqua County, but the technology for its recovery and use was lacking and their supplies eventually proved to be insufficient for sustained production.      Along with West Virginia, the earliest discovery of natural gas in the United States was at Fredonia, NY in 1824, where the gas was piped to a Lake Erie light house for use as a ship-passage warning. 1821:  First natural gas development, Chautauqua County, NY. 1864:  Discovery of gas in Cattaraugus County in 1864 resulted in a surplus over local requirements but there was no means for its transmission. Additional supplies were discovered about 1880 in Allegany County in connection with the oil development there, and three years later John D. Rockefeller entered natural gas pipeline business as the National Transit Company. Rockefeller, constructed the first long-distance (146 km) natural gas pipeline, from McKean County, PA to Buffalo.

One of the dilemmas of natural gas suppliers was accumulation and storage of gas to meet winter demands, once the customer base was built. This condition peaked in 1927 when numerous up-state cities and towns, among them Buffalo, Elmira, Caledonia and Pavilion, had to resort to quick supplementation by addition or admixture of manufactured gas. Today this ephermerality confuses our search and confirmation problems related to determining where dangerous accumulations of PAH residuals and wastes lurk.

            By 1931, butane-air technology was developed to convert this oil refinery by-product to a temporary fuel gas for companies trying to span the gap between the lean years of high manufactured gas feedstock costs and the projected arrival of reliable natural gas from proven fields. In New York, this technology was employed by Rockland Gas Company for amending capacity at Haverstraw and Suffern and to extend services to satellite towns.

             Natural gas became available in Orange and Rockland Counties, making up the lower tier, just above New Jersey, and west of the Hudson River, in 1953. From 1947, some of the gas plants has been manufacturing high-Btu oil gas as an alternative to carburetted water gas and the high-Btu alternative was a common course of events throughout the northeast, in view of the rising costs of coal and of mine-strike interruptions in its supply. High-Btu gas continued after 1953 as the means of peak-shaving when the not-always reliable natural gas supply fell through. New York City relied on its high-Btu gas for primary gas make until 1960.

Note:  clicking the New York City / Long Island region on the next map will zoom in on that area.

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

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

          Click here to read about New York City gas plants

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