CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Lingering pollution problems in key parts of West Virginia could eventually pose problems for any company that decides it wants to build a natural gas "cracker" facility in the state, a government regulator and an industry consultant agreed Wednesday.
Parts of the Kanawha Valley, the Northern Panhandle and Wood County all remain listed as not meeting certain federal air quality standards, a designation that would require tougher emission controls for any major pollution source like a cracker facility.
The designation means any cracker locating in those areas would also be forced to find existing pollution sources that would agree to cut emissions as "offsets" for the new facility.
"It would present challenges," said Joe Kessler, an engineer with the state Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Air Quality.
Kessler discussed the issue Wednesday as part of a conference the West Virginia Manufacturers Association sponsored to promote the prospect of landing a cracker plant and "downstream" facilities that would turn natural gas wastes into marketable products.
West Virginia political leaders and business boosters continue to push the idea, despite last week's announcement that Shell Chemical had picked a site in western Pennsylvania for further study as a potential cracker plant location.
Kessler said major pollution sources must generally be equipped with the "best available control technology," or BACT, to obtain air emissions permits under the federal Clean Air Act and state regulations.
To locate in areas that don't meet current federal air quality standards, Kessler said, companies would have to install tougher pollution controls to meet the "lowest achievable emissions rate," or LAER.
Under federal law, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets National Ambient Air Quality Standards at a level meant to protect public health. States then have authority to write their own plans for how to meet those standards, usually through a mix of pollution controls for different sorts of industrial and other activities.