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Locations of Gas Plants and Other Coal-tar Sites in the U.S.

THE STATE OF NEBRASKA

Introduction

            Contrasts of geology and topography have marked Nebraska for its history and those conditions also influenced the history of manufactured gas in this State. Bounded on the east by the Missouri River and its own Sand Hills in its southeast, a third major geologic influence are the unconsolidated and highly porous Pleistocene-aged Ogallala Formation, one of the nation’s major groundwater aquifers. The geologic presence of the Ogallala sands and gravels also constituted the gentle topographic incline known as the “ramp” up which the Union Pacific Railroad climbed in its westward progress to become half of the new transcontinental rail route of 1869. All of these conditions led to placement of Nebraska gas works in one of the overall environmentally most dangerous scenarios of the United States.

UGI began its long-term presence in Nebraska with its 1887 acquisition of the 1868 Omaha Gas Manufacturing Company and utilized it as a field training ground for upward-bound technical and managerial staff. From the start (1887) until his retirement in 1910, well known gas engineer Issac Battin, scion of a famous American gas-making family, superintended this outpost. UGI used this plant to develop some of its gas tar recovery and marketing techniques and business strategy. In 1920 UGI sold the property to the City of Omaha and in 1929 Omaha was declared the largest municipally-owned manufactured gas plant in the U.S. Some might contest that this honor rightfully should remained with the Philadelphia Gas Works Company, the long-term semi-private production capacity.

The 1890s brought syndicate-type owner investments from the east, particularly at Nebraska City. and from 1900 to1915 there was a general pulse in the increased establishment of small-town gas works. The author has the impression that more Nebraska gas works were constructed in the first two decades of the 20th century than at other times.

Consolidation never truly affected the Nebraska manufactured gas situation due to the fact that the major cities were not large enough, with the exception of Lincoln, to have opposition companies. Lincoln’s consolidated occurred at the late date of 1924, for the gas manufacturing capacities of the Gas & Electric Company and the Lincoln Traction Company.

Holding company activity, on the other hand, occurred in Nebraska and debuted in 1903 when Henry L. Doherty colonized with his acquisition of the  Lincoln Gas & Electric Co. By 1915,  Eastern holding companies arrived to acquire struggling gas works. Representative of these interests were the Continental Gas & Electric Co. of Cleveland (at Beatrice), and then at Omaha (1918), Nebraska Gas & Electric Co. (at Blue Springs, 1916), and in 1918 additionally at Oakland, Scribner, Hooper, Winnebago  and West Point. 1922 brought the Central Power Co. into Grand Island, but it sold out to the United Light & Power Co. of Chicago in 1925; signaling a second phase of holding company acquisitions in Nebraska, which resulted in modifications and another phase of new plant construction.  During the financial chaos of 1932, Central West Public Service Co., Omaha (a Delaware Corp.) took over at Columbus and Norfolk.

Municipal plants never a popular movement, even when made available from the bigger players at bargain prices, such as at Freemont in 1921 when Henry L. Doherty & Company priced the gas works at only $25,000.

Nebraska experimented slightly with alternative gas-generation. In 1907 corn stalks, straw and other waste agricultural products” were bailed and fed to retorts; corn cobs shoveled, at Beatrice. The general small-town application of acetylene is known to have been installed in 1903 by the Hudson Acetylene Gas Co. incorporated by the Monarch Acetylene Gas Co. of Omaha.

A very early Springer System gas producer was installed in 1888 by the Lincoln Gas Light Company for production of fuel gas. Fort Crook, later Offutt Air Force Base was the third and last in a sequence of displaced U.S. Army posts at Omaha, named from the Indian-fighting general. In 1909 the Signal Corps had a gas works on post and used it to supply lift gas for the Observation Balloon Detachment there, and also during training of Aerial Observers for combat duty in France during WWI. This plant was remediated in 1994 and its4000 cy of  PAH-contaminated soil hauled to disposal in a RCRA Class D sanitary landfill at Sumitville, Alabama.

Natural gas arrived in Nebraska in 1930, from Abilene, Kansas, at Grand Island, and with Texas panhandle competition supplies arriving via pipeline at Lincoln.

The beginning of Nebraska’s celebrated SUPERFUND FMGP NPL site at Hastings, occurred in 1983, when  State Department of Health confirmed TCE in the city aquifer, and then, six  years later detected and confirmed the presence of FMGP PAHs. The City was dragged into the fracas from the beginning and the contamination has been, in part, tagged to the 1880-1930 town gas plant. Most of the site remedial actions have concentrated on managing and treating groundwater contamination while the FMGP and its potential ongoing contributions have taken the ”back seat.”

Remediation of some plants was derailed by the 2002 failure of ENRON Corporation, a successor to Northern Natural Gas Co., especially at Decorah.

Click the blue "EPA" link below to view the
Nebraska map of the EPA 1985 Radian FMGP Report.

Click the green "Hatheway" link below to view the
Nebraska map of Professor Hatheway's research.

Copyright © 2012  by Dr. Allen W. Hatheway    All rights reserved.
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