A vast mission aimed at exploiting West Virginia’s coal for a myriad of by-products in the fuel arena was mapped out Thursday by Gov. Joe Manchin.

As opposed to plans suggested in other states, Man-chin said West Virginia’s entails state-of-the-art, multi-product facilities capable of keeping in step with a changing market.

Put simply, he explained, the plan would be capable of meeting specific needs as they arise — from diesel fuel to hydrogen to chemicals.

“We aren’t trying to re-invent the wheel,” the governor said.

“We’re just trying to do our part to keep it balanced and moving in the right direction.”

With some 50 billion tons of estimated coal reserves, able to generate three barrels of liquid fuel per ton, Manchin said the idea is sensible.

Manchin said his initiative would embrace both public and private development of liquefaction and other coal conversion facilities and infrastructure in West Virginia.

Intent is for such facilities to transform coal into liquid fuels and other products for both commercial and non-commercial uses, he said.

Given the wars in the Persian Gulf in recent years, and the recent destruction along the Gulf Coast by two hurricanes, Manchin said dependence on a small area of the world for energy needs has come into sharp focus.

“It’s no secret that the United States is at an energy crossroads in which our economy and way of life are now under constant threat from the possibility of petroleum and natural gas resource shortfalls,” he said.

“West Virginia is one of several states that are rich in natural resources, and it is time that we stepped up to the plate and took responsibility for doing our part to address the nation’s growing energy crisis.”

In Washington, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., applauded Manchin’s proposal, saying, “A perfect storm has been brewing regarding our nation’s continued lack of a comprehensive energy policy. Gov. Manchin and I know that it is time to utilize West Virginia’s rich human and natural resources.

“We should be exploring new ways to use our vast coal resources as well as recognizing the exciting opportunities to develop our renewable resources like hydroelectric, wind, solar and biomass energy.”

Byrd said the coal industry can provide “a compass point for a serious energy strategy and West Virginia can set that course.”

Manchin pledged to re-establish the Public Energy Authority in an effort with the Department of Environmental Protection, researchers, scientists and energy leaders to devise a plan for implementing a coal conversion facility.

The state Development Office would be directed to identify potential site locations, infrastructure requirements and private sector partners to help with siting, permitting and construction.

Playing integral roles will be Commerce Secretary Tom Bulla, DEP Secretary Stephanie Timmermyer, the state Public Service Commission, West Virginia University Tech President Charles Bayless, along with other college and university presidents, Pat Esposito, the governor’s liaison to the Southern States Energy Board, and leaders of the West Virginia Coal Association, United Mine Workers of America and the state’s skilled work force.

Manchin said the facility envisioned will more easily trap carbon dioxide, considered by some as a major contributor to climate change.

“To simplify, what we’re talking about is the process of converting coal into liquid fuels and other products — something that I have long been a proponent for and have been seeking more information on since I first took office,” he said.

Meetings are planned soon with national industry leaders, allowing him to outline West Virginia’s commitment to the idea, Manchin said.

“These efforts, along with those of other states, will help to address, once and for all, the vulnerability of America’s refining capacity and ensure West Virginia’s energy independence well into the future,” he added.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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