Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

January 14, 2011

Landowners air concerns, ask questions about FutureGen

Cathy Thoele
Effingham Daily News

ST. ELMO — Many questions were raised during a meeting of elected officials and landowners in Fayette County who have a possible stake in the FutureGen project, but the most prevalent question on the minds of those who attended was the purpose of the project and whether jobs would be in store for local residents.

    Glen Mills is one Loudon Township property owner who is opposed to the project, but beyond that, opposed to the EPA regulations coming down the pike that are driving projects like FutureGen to develop ways to capture carbon in an effort to mitigate greenhouse gases.

    “I don’t think we’re poisoning the environment with carbon dioxide,” said Mills at the meeting conducted by FutureGen Alliance Thursday evening at the Phillips Building in St. Elmo.

    Fayette County is one of four counties in the running to be chosen as the carbon storage site for the FutureGen project. The other counties are Christian, Douglas and Morgan.

    The potential storage site affects landowners in Loudon, who Willow Grove Carbon Solutions has been signing up since June to establish the storage site more than 7,000 feet below ground in the 1,300-foot thick Mount Simon sandstone that is topped by shale sealing the carbon underground permanently. The company has applied to be a storage site for the FutureGen project, but plans to use the site for future projects regardless if it is chosen. The storage site also touches on small portions of Sefton and Avena townships, west of St. Elmo, as well as a tiny portion of Moccasin Township in Effingham County.

    Mills, who has not signed on for the storage site, is concerned about the condition of property if Fayette is chosen and injection wells are installed.

    “I’ve got abandoned oil wells and lines on my property that were mandated to be taken out and haven’t yet,” he said.

    Mills also is worried about not having a say in whether his property is drilled into or not.

    “What business does Vandalia have telling these people they can drill a hole in my property,” he said.

    Vandalia’s Economic Development Director JoAnn Sasse Givens said the city of Vandalia is involved because it has the only economic development office in the county needed for such a project.

    “Willow Carbon came to me before FutureGen got involved and the project made good sense to me. I knew carbon restrictions were coming down,” she said.

    The company anticipates it will only need to secure 60 percent of the land for the state to unitize the area. So far, 10,000 acres of land have been signed up.

    Mills’ concern stems from what he claims is over-regulation by government.

    Sallie Greenberg, assistant director of the Illinois State Geological Survey’s Advanced Energy Technology Initiative who is working with the alliance, said regardless of whether someone believes greenhouse gases are real, regulations are likely, however, carbon management mandates have to be researched before they can be implemented.

    “We have to make sure we’re doing it in a safe and effective manner long before we’re forced to do it,” she said. “The reality is we have got to know how to do it if it becomes a reality.”

    It’s a project that hopefully will be replicated around the U.S. and globally, added Gretchen Hund, stakeholder involvement manager for FutureGen Alliance, who spoke at the meeting.

    While landowner Dean Buzzard agrees there’s too much regulation, he said it is inevitable carbon will be regulated.

    “If we can bring in 75 new or better paying jobs, why don’t we give this a shot those of us who are fortunate enough to own land,” he said.

    Visitors, training and research centers to be built along with the site are estimated to create 75 permanent jobs while it will require 1,000 constructions jobs and 1,000 service jobs to get the project up and running.

    Even though those jobs will require the expertise of people from outside the area, Givens said Fayette County has an advantage in being an oil-rich area because it has trained personnel who have been around rigs and drilling.

    “We have a trained workforce here,” she said.

    Greenberg said people in the county understand wells unlike the other competing communities she has spoken to this week.

    “That experience you bring is what makes you valued,” she said.

    FutureGen Alliance is expected to announce a site selection in February.

    Cathy Thoele can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 126 or cathy.thoele@effinghamdailynews.com.