The Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority is courting a company that would recycle used lubricant oil, but the authority’s vice chairman says he opposes the effort because the plant would bring too many environmental problems.
Massachusetts-based Green Renewable Oil, partnering with Sequoia Energy & Environment, is considering Allied Industrial Park in south Macon for a plant that would remove toxins, spent additives and other impurities from used motor oil.
Among local economic development officials, the prospect has gone by the code name Project Duncan. Chip Cherry, president of the Macon Economic Development Commission, said Project Duncan is “pretty far along” in the negotiation process. He did not name the companies.
At an industrial authority meeting in December, Project Duncan was projected to create about 25 jobs and bring an investment of about $30 million.
But Frank Amerson, who is vice chairman of the industrial authority and chairman of the Macon Water Authority, said Green Renewable Oil and Sequoia have not answered important questions about how they’d handle pollutants, including arsenic and benzene. And he voiced concern that a Nevada re-refinery using the same technology has been controversial for its smell and environmental violations.
“They come in here as if they’re going to build, and none of this has been satisfactorily answered,” he said. He contended that the Macon Economic Development Commission staff has either failed in its due diligence or is hiding information from the authority.
Amerson had planned to present packets of information to back up his concerns at a Wednesday meeting of the industrial authority’s Properties Committee, which he chairs. Green Renewable Oil representatives were expected to be there. But the meeting was canceled ahead of time for lack of a quorum.
Instead, Project Duncan officials met Wednesday to discuss the project with Pat Topping, vice chairman of the economic development commission, Cherry said.
Amerson said he decided to voice his concerns publicly when he could not do so during the committee meeting.
Directors with Green Renewable Oil and Sequoia could not be reached Thursday. Topping did not return phone calls Wednesday and was out of town Thursday.
The Project Duncan companies have indicated that they would need no state environmental permits, said industrial authority attorney Kevin Brown. He did not name the companies. They have described a method that would leave all impurities from the process in a solid form, he said.
“It’s an oil refinery,” Amerson said. “You can’t tell me there are no emissions from an oil refinery.”
According to the Web site of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, about a dozen similar facilities are located across the state. Their air emissions can include compounds that contribute to ozone or global climate change, as well as fine particles that can cause heart and lung problems. Jac Capp, state air branch chief, said in an e-mail that a small enough re-refinery might not have to get an air permit.
Green Renewable Oil’s Web site indicates that re-refining removes toxins such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, benzene and toluene.
Amerson and Mark Wyzalek, the water authority’s environmental compliance manager, said they are concerned that toxic or corrosive elements in the proposed plant’s wastewater could disable the sewage treatment plant. If they harm the bacteria that break down sewage, raw sewage could flow into the Ocmulgee River. Under its own state water permit, the authority would be held responsible.
Wyzalek said company representatives told him two weeks ago that the plant could be a “zero discharge facility,” so their wastewater would contain only ordinary sewage. The authority would have no problem with that, he said.
But Wyzalek provided e-mails showing that he has since requested specifics about the contents of the refinery’s wastewater, and company officials only provided information that did not answer the question. They arranged a phone conference but didn’t show up, the e-mails indicate.
“Obviously if the water authority is not comfortable with the discharge, we won’t bring that company here,” Cherry said. “We won’t put their other customers at risk. ... If they can’t work it out, we part ways.”
Originally, Project Duncan was considering a site in the Ocmulgee East Industrial Park, but that park’s covenants won’t allow a refinery, Brown said. Project Duncan is now focused on Allied Industrial Park, around Guy Paine Road in south Macon, although several other places in town would work, he said.
Wyzalek, who has met with officials from the companies, said Green Renewable Oil has never operated a plant like the one it is proposing for Macon. But Topping has said the company has a few plants operating in the U.S. and more in Europe. The companies’ Web sites do not list any past projects or plants.
Wyzalek said company representatives told him the Macon operation would use the same technology as the Bango Oil plant in Fallon, Nev.
Residents of Churchill County, where the Bango plant is located, have complained of being sickened by the plant’s smell. The local Lahontan Valley News reports that the county was involved in a lawsuit with Bango and has invested in extensive air testing.
Jill Lufrano, public information officer for the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, said Thursday that department officials could not gather a list of Bango’s violations in a day.
News reports indicate that within Bango’s first year of operation, the department issued a stop-work order against the plant for releasing more pollutants into the air than allowed under its permit and failing to report those releases.
“I’m fearful about our sewer system having toxic odors and liquids corrosive to our sewer system,” Wyzalek said. “When you’re talking about a large quantity of waste oil from facilities all over, and this company has never operated this kind of plant before ... that makes me cautious.”
Amerson spoke more strongly. “With what we found out about Bango, I don’t even want (the re-refinery) here,” he said. “If people in Nevada are out there fussing about this, we ought to be fussing about it.”
Cherry said economic development officials have done some research on the Bango plant. “At this point, it has not raised any red flags,” he said.
According to the Project Duncan companies, problems with the Bango plant were related to how it was run, not its design, Brown said. And they indicated that the Macon plant will use a different process that would produce less waste than the Bango plant.
The Green Renewable Oil Web site emphasizes the company’s pro-environment stance and points out that re-refining reduces dependence on crude oil.
Information from The Telegraph’s archives was used in this report.
To contact writer S. Heather Duncan, call 744-4225.