Rep. Dan Newhouse is asking top Department of Energy officials for a commitment to complete work on an environmental study for a proposed natural gas pipeline to serve the Hanford vitrification plant before any decision is made that would interfere with it.
“This would provide long-term assurance that this project remains a priority for the department,” Newhouse said in a letter sent Wednesday to Mark Whitney, the DOE acting assistant secretary for environmental management.
He also asked that DOE include the natural gas pipeline as it develops new cost and schedule estimates for the vitrification plant.
DOE announced at the end of April that it was putting on hold work on its environmental study on using natural gas to replace diesel fuel at the vitrification plant.
About $6 million has been spent on the study. The Tri-City Development Council has been told by DOE that work on the study could be restarted in three to five years and completed at a cost of another $3 million.
Switching fuel from diesel to natural gas could save from $400 million to $700 million, Newhouse said. It also would eliminate the need for 42 truckloads per week of diesel to be delivered to Hanford and would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 1 million tons.
DOE has said it remains supportive of completing the analysis of the project, but indicated that it had more immediate cleanup priorities.
The natural gas pipeline might not be needed until 2022 or 2025, said Gary Petersen, TRIDEC vice president of Hanford projects. But supporters of the project are leery of a loss of momentum.
“There is nothing so permanent as something DOE does temporarily,” Petersen said.
The longer the project is delayed the more challenging the project could be, said Eric Martuscelli, vice president of operations for Cascade Natural Gas. Cascade would own, build and operate the pipeline, and it has been providing technical expertise to DOE to support the environmental study.
The pipeline is proposed to run from a natural gas transmission line north of Pasco, under the Columbia River to central Hanford. Easements for it would be needed in the rapidly developing area between the Pasco airport and the Columbia River.
Within three to five years, turnover in the ranks of the DOE officials assigned to approve and work on the project is likely, given DOE’s history.
The delay in completing the study could challenge Cascade “to get us back to where we are today if we have to start over,” Maruscelli said.
Project costs go up with any project delay and regulatory requirements for natural gas pipelines could increase in the next few years, Petersen said.
TRIDEC believes the draft environmental study, called an environmental impact statement, is almost completed. The estimated $3 million more would be used primarily to hold public hearings and address public comments, produce the final version of the study and make a decision.
Newhouse also is asking DOE to make public its work on the draft environmental study.
“This work was funded by taxpayer dollars and I believe the public has a right to that information,” he said in the letter to Whitney.
Release of the work done on the draft could give an indication of whether or not the project is feasible.
Newhouse also encouraged continued communication with TRIDEC, the Mid-Columbia Energy Initiative and others in the Tri-City community.
“It is after all, the local community that will face the impacts of trucks carrying diesel to the (vitrification plant) steam plant, which will be going through Pasco and Richland every day unless an alternative is implemented,” he said.
The plant will need diesel fuel or natural gas as the primary fuel for steam boilers that will support operations to turn radioactive waste into a solid glass form for disposal. The original plan was to use diesel fuel, but today it is widely recognized that natural gas would be less expensive and cleaner, Newhouse said.
A public website where the public could read about DOE’s work to date and get updates on the environmental study, the nuclear safety analysis and review cost/benefit data would be a transparent way for DOE to meet its stated goals of working closing with the community on the natural gas proposal, Newhouse said.