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

THE STATE OF WASHINGTON

Introduction

            Generally speaking, Washington State turned to manufactured gas lighting at a relatively late date. Development of bituminous coal mines in southwest Washington provided as much gas coal as required and at affordable prices, so that adoption of oil-gas was neither swift nor complete, as it was in California. Coke produced from Washington coal was characteristically soft and disliked for other than household heading. Hence, carburetted water gas is believed to have been retarded by this one unique factor (Aldrich, in discussion of Howard, Proc., PCGA, 1899).

            Unlike California, Washington was hardly a place of wanton priced-competition between gas works, even in Seattle, where an orderly progression occurred between the first gas works in the State (Seattle, 1873) and the one-company situation remained at the end of the manufactured gas era. Even with this situation, there may have been as many as eleven gas plants and related facilities at Seattle. One of these, the Mercer Street Station, lay virtually undetected and alongside of the new Mercer Street Tunnel, portion of the Denny Way/Lake Union CSO (Combined Sewer Overflow) project, in planning as this books goes to press.

            In 1875, coal was being mined around Seattle at 200-400 tons per day and were being developed at Puyallup, some 45 km from Tacoma (Goodyear, 1877). More coal was found in the Centralia Valley of SW Washington, in the late 1880s, but it must have been transportation difficulties that stymied the more widespread manufacture of gas. Whereas Iowa, for example was criss-crossed by railroad shortlines dedicated to hauling agricultural produce out and coal and farm equipment in, development of small manufactured gas plants reached a high level. Washington coal was dominated by the Pacific Coal Company, a holding of the Northern Pacific Railroad. By 1900, coal was being mined extensively in the counties of Kittitas, King, Pierce, Skagit and Whatcom, for a 1902 total of 2,690,789 tons (Washington State Mine Inspector (1903).

            Rugged topography of the western portion of the state also affected the development of manufactured gas in two incidental ways. First of all, population centers developed only at the floodplains touching or reaching toward Puget Sound and along the Columbia River, near its mouth. This did place a good deal of the population within transportable range of coal, but this was developed relatively late, in the nation’s history. Secondly, the topography was suitable for the development of hydroelectric power, though the gorges would not support large volumes of stored water. Relatively high snowfall remedied the water storage deficiency by large quantities of snowmelt. Development of electric generation capacity was fraught with political and corporate infighting which largely left manufactured gas as a side issue (Fitzsimmons, 1996).

            One of the last west-coast gas works to be installed was the 1937 Pacific Coast oil-gas process plant at what is now Gas Works Park, at the extreme north end of Lake Union, in Seattle. This was a redevelopment of the older Lake Station of the Seattle Gas Company. As shown in Figure __, the open-air retorts are surrounded by a chain-link fence with informative signs. Distribution compressors are housed in a sideless roof and painted cheerful colors to serve not only as a full-size educational exhibit for machine enthusiasts, but for children to climb.

            With the advent of W.W. II, Pacific Coast oil gas had the edge in quantity, followed by carburetted water gas, both used as a mix at Seattle, while coal-gas survived only at Spokane and Yakima. The new natural gas firms were serving butane-air gas, generally formulated by mixing high-Btu liquefied butane with air, at small plants with rail service. Several manufactured gas plants were converted from manufactured gas at this time. Washington’s first natural gas was discovered in this period, in the Rattlesnake Hills and piped to the nearby Yakima Valley. The supply failed in the same years and was picked up by the installation of butane-air plants.

            Washington State has another peculiar utilities history that eventually affected the ownership of many of the old gas plants. About 1945, the Washington Legislature made possible the creation of country electric districts, which were able to acquire the existing holdings of the holding companies and their fronting public utilities that had come to control the original entrepreneurish gas works by about 1910-1915.

            Urban development has removed visual evidence of the urban gas works and precious little remains of those in the smaller cities. Natural gas arrived in central Washington State in 1929 but was not developed to serve more than the areas around the shallow south-central Rattlesnake gas fields of the Yakima area. Widespread conversion to natural gas would have to wait until 196_.

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

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

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