SARATOGA — The Wyoming Industrial Siting Council approved a new time line for a long-delayed, high-tech coal conversion project in Carbon County on Wednesday, which could delay the project’s construction by more than three years.
A new condition to the permit for the $2 billion DKRW Advanced Fuels coal-to-gasoline project: The company must regularly update surrounding communities about progress on the project, including through twice-a-year public meetings.
The plant would turn local coal into 87-octane gasoline, liquefied petroleum gas products of propane and butane, carbon for enhanced oil recovery and sulfur for chemical and fertilizer production.
The seven-member council, which by state law is in charge of permitting construction projects that cost $190.8 million or more, first granted Houston-based DKRW the construction permit in 2008. Aside from some light construction, the project hasn’t moved forward.
On Wednesday, the council debated for more than an hour on a DKRW proposal asking for an additional 30 months before the company would have to submit documents such as a construction schedule, a housing plan for workers, and a description of manpower demands over time. DKRW’s proposal contained a provision that if it doesn’t present those documents within 30 months, the state can yank the permit. After an initial vote in which a majority of council members rejected DKRW’s proposal, the council rewrote the proposal to make it more concise, and a majority approved it.
Council members added additional requirements to the proposal, including a demand that DKRW communicate quarterly with nearby communities such as Medicine Bow about the project’s progress and a public hearing every six months that is advertised and announced in local newspapers, to enlighten the public on the project’s progress.
As for the documents the company must submit, they have to be in the Industrial Siting Council’s hands nine months before construction resumes. That could mean folks in Carbon County may have to wait 39 months before construction is in full swing.
Community members were mixed about their support of the project. Medicine Bow Council President Kenda Colman said her town supported the project. She had a handful of Medicine Bow residents stand during the meeting. She said the town was making water and sewer upgrades to accommodate the influx of workers. The company estimated in documents provided to the council that there will be about 2,300 construction jobs and 435 permanent operations jobs.
“We wanted to let you know we feel this is a good group to work with,” Colman said.
Carbon County Commissioner Sue Jones said the project may be too big and complex ever to come to fruition.
“I believe we may be parties to one of the longest-running scams worldwide,” she said.
Wade Cline, DKRW executive vice president and general counsel, said that there are two main reasons for the delays: financing and contractors.
Financing has been complicated and got derailed after the banking crisis of 2008. About 65 percent of project will be paid for with financing from banks, Cline said, with the remaining 35 percent coming from equity from investors.
Cline said the company is trying to line up dozens of subcontractors to provide materials and workers — from electrical and plumbing to road and site construction. Once they have better details of the subcontractors for the project, they can present that information to the banks, which require it for such a project, Cline said.
Wyoming Industrial Siting Council member Richard O’Gara of Cheyenne voted against the new timetable both times it came up for vote. He wanted to discuss whether DKRW had been out of compliance with its 2008 permit, since the company had not provided the update that the council expected earlier this year.
But DKRW attorney Mary Throne objected, saying that such a discussion would require a formal hearing and legal briefs by the state and DKRW. Throne said she was confident that DKRW was never out of compliance.
Justin Daraie, a lawyer from the state Attorney General’s Office working on behalf of the Industrial Siting Council, declined to say whether there would be a compliance hearing in the future.
Council member Sandy Shuptrine of Jackson also voted against the permit both times, saying that “it opens the door for other applicants to make their own rules.”
“The precedent really disturbs and bothers me,” she said.