PINE GROVE - "We can work together and prove that "coal" is not a four-letter word." Those were the words of Dan Blaschak, the vice chairman of the anthracite council and vice-president of Blaschak Coal Corp, who throughout the last Friday's tour of Schuylkill County, sang the praises of the clean-burning jet black resource.
Among the objectives of the tour was to call attention to what was referred to on several occasions throughout the day as the "best kept secret national resource."
The tour was conducted by members of the Task Force on 21st Century Energy Policy for Pennsylvania that is chaired by Montgomery County Legislator Representative Ellen Bard (R-153). The task force collects input from every region of the commonwealth to fulfill an overall mission of developing an energy strategy for Pa. that in many instances directly involves Anthracite coal and its role within the state.
On this tour, input was easy to find as there were several "coal aficionado’s" in attendance.
Among those "aficionado’s" would be Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Anthracite Council Duane C. Feagley, who announced to those present for the tour that a recent study done by the Penn State Facilities Planning Institute found that the cost of using coal for energy in the state is only one-third that of oil and gas.
Some first hand evidence of the financial benefits of coal were pointed out during the tour's initial stop at Pine Grove Area school district's middle and high schools.
According to the Maintenance Coordinator at the schools, Fred W. Leffler, the respective cost of using electricity to heat the middle school is ten times the amount needed in using coal to heat the high school. He stated that the monthly cost of coal heating is $1,090, compared to the $11,560 price tag needed to pay for electric heating.
"That is quite a difference," curtly said Leffler.
He also shared some of his thoughts on why he felt that "Coal is King". He claimed that coal being "dirty" is a myth, whereas coal being efficient to use is a fact.
Leffler added that using electricity as a resource to heat the middle school requires constant maintenance, while handling the institution's anthracite coal heating system is a less-involved task. Leffler opened the door to the heating-system, revealing the fire-engine red-hot coals within that provide heat for the high school.
Throughout the five-hour tour that began in Pine Grove and culminated at the J.B. Rich Memorial CO-generation Plant, those taking the ride along Interstate 81 were educated by a detailed presentation given by the District Mining Manager for the Pottsville Office of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Roger Hornberger, who proved to be a fountain of information on the black material. Hornberger discussed various topics and issues concerning coal such as its characteristic's, the different uses of the resource, how coal mines were developed and delivered a condensed environmental and geological history of coal.
One major, and arguably alarming, statistic presented was that in 1870 there were over 14,000,000 net tons of Anthracite coal produced, whereas current production of "hard coal" has continually dwindled to under 4,000,000 net tons.
Despite the numbers, Blaschak feels that the time for a turnaround may be upon us and looks for people to "embrace" coal and discussed its environmental benefits, during a tour stop at a Raven Run site, where an ongoing mine reclamation project is being done by Blaschak Coal Company on acres of mine lands owned by the city of Philadelphia.
Blaschak added that the use of biosolids on such projects, which has become a large issue of late in several municipalities and boroughs, is widely misunderstood by its opponents.
"You have to do these types of projects and do them responsibly and have your programs in place to make sure the material you are getting is what it is," said Blaschak. "The manner in which my company deals with the issue is by hiring professionals who deal with biosolids on a daily basis and we have had tremendous success in working with DEP with our biosolids applications."
However, biosolids and the argument for and against them, were not the reason for Friday’s tour according to Blaschak, who is as much of a "coal-cracker" as one can get.
"The purpose for this beautiful trip is the need for energy awareness and recognizing anthracite as a pure form of energy and our ability to displace foreign oil with our Anthracite product," said Blaschak.
That idea of displacing oil with Anthracite was the primary topic at the tours final stop at the Gilberton Power Company, where John W. Rich Jr., president of WMPI of Gilberton, explained his companies plans for a $350 million coal liquefaction plant, which would be the nation's first such facility. He stated the facility would kick-start Schuylkill County's economy through creating new business opportunities.
"We want to keep the dollars and the jobs here," concluded Rich.