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

THE STATE OF WEST VIRGINIA

Introduction

            As it is often regarded, West Virginia is a resource-rich State that has never reached its own internal potential for ownership, extraction or processing of those riches. The State was created in 1863, during the Civil War, to honor the dominant commitment of its citizens to the Union cause, and at a time at which a general expansion of manufactured gas has been in effect, but was interrupted by the war.
 
            At first, West Virginia was resource-exploited along its north-bordering Ohio River and then with railroads traversing its generally narrow, river-carved valleys. The net result was that gas manufacturing arrived only after about 1850. As in the vast, early natural gas fields of this State, Western Pennsylvania, and portions of Ohio and Indiana, some manufactured gas plants “came and went” in West Virginia’s major cities, where natural gas was made to do, especially with Welsbach mantles, but was undependable in terms of continued supply. With much of the State’s investment finances controlled by absentee owners, little progress was made in gas lighting, in general, lacking the usual public improvement motivation of city and town leaders.
 
            The State eventually was developed to produce vast quantities of gas coal, caking coal for coke production, oil for all manner of uses, and also possessed had the basic ingredients for gas purification. At the same time, West Virginia topography has always been a hindrance to recovery and shipment of its own resources, and hence, the necessary concentrations of its population to support gas works and other coal-tar sites.
 
            It would appear that far more West Virginia gas and tar were generated in the course of wood and coal carbonization. Charcoal ovens (1790-1840) gave way to individual then block-type, non-recovery coke ovens, then, after 1890, to by-product ovens. Operating block-type, non-recovery ovens were yet to be found, here and there, well into the 1950s. A good deal of the financial backing and downright ownership came from Philadelphia (such as the Elkins family, whose name also is to be found on a West Virginia coalfield) and Pittsburgh (Frick, U.S. Steel, and Koppers Corp.). As can be well-imagined, most of the block ovens were (and are to be) found located adjacent to mines producing good-quality caking coal. The main toxic residuals are the tars condensed and captured by the plentiful quench waters used to preserve the coke as it was raked out to discharge on the aprons of the oven blocks. A reliable supply of cool, clear quench water was a prime requisite
 
            As can be expected for a timber-rich State; creosote wood treatment plants are yet another consideration in characterizing the overall coal-tar contamination potential of West Virginia. Many of these plants were established by railroad companies prior to the emergence of the large-scale coal-tar producing industry, which, as World War I approached, were largely taken over by such firms as the Koppers Corporation, which was divested by its German founder, Heinrich Koppers, who returned to his homeland shortly after the outbreak of war in Europe.
 
            An intense coal-tar utilization industry appeared as early as 1875 when the American Aniline Co. opened its Parkersburg works, and this industry grew and then “explosively” expanded with the 1914 advent of World War I, mostly on the example of the DuPont works at Bell, on the Kanawha River, the Fike Corp. and other munitions plants at Nitro, the Naval Ordnance Plant at South Charleston, and the Moatsville coal, coke, gas and chemical plant.
 
            In these and other fuel-intensive industrial plants (particularly glass plants), producer gas plants began to emerge after 1900, to provide cheap fuel gas in the general absence of natural gas pipelines in some industrial areas. Producer gas was in great demand during World War I, to provide both fuel gas and to drive producer gas engines, as industrial powering engines. An extension of such units came along again in WW II, at plants such as the West Virginia Ordnance Works (Point Pleasant), the DuPont works at Charleston and its Morgantown Ordnance Works, also operated on largely patriotic basis with respect to the profit motive.

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

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

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