Waiting to be vaporized

The hype surrounding vaporized hog waste in the Cargill-supplied C&H Hog Farms (it's a factory) in the Buffalo National River watershed has lots of folks waiting and watching for the Plasma Energy Group of Florida to show what it claims it can do.

As of last week, this supposedly revolutionary method for safely disposing of something as potent and foul as hog waste remained just talk. Cargill has been waiting for the prototype, and it hasn't heard from Plasma Energy in about a month.

Still no prototype? A news account by reporter Emily Walkenhorst said the president of Plasma Energy reportedly will begin testing its electron-fired, waste-zapping condenser sometime in July at another state Cargill-sponsored hog factory called Sandy River Farm. If all goes well there, things could get cooking at the hog factory in the Buffalo River watershed in August.

Murry Vance, who heads Plasma Energy Group, has been quoted saying the results of his firm's technology will spew fewer emissions than does a commercial lawn mower. Now that's an impressive statement.

Plasma Energy Group better hope that proves true. The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (cough) warned the firm in October "that testing could result in enforcement action if the technology resulted in gas discharges that would require an air permit," Walkenhorst's story says. "The department had been unable to determine whether Plasma Energy Group needed an air permit because it did not receive enough data from the company on projected gas discharges from vaporizing hog waste. The company has vaporized some materials before, but never hog waste."

Vance told the reporter that liquid pig waste is easier to vaporize than "high solid" materials--like cow manure--his company is accustomed to vaporizing. Vance said he'd been using plasma arc pyrolysis technology since 1992. This process involves transforming material into synthetic gas.

The quantity of waste from C&H won't be large enough to turn into gas, so it would be broken down and vaporized using an electron discharge and heat. The resulting vapor would be condensed into "semi-pure" water.

Yet still the state waits for all this to unfold. The Department of Environmental Quality spokesperson said that office hadn't heard as much as a grunt from Plasma Energy since last October. Cargill says it wants everything about this approach to be not just OK, or good, but downright perfect before it's used at C&H.

Meanwhile, Mike Martin with Cargill said his privately held company is pursuing this new approach in an effort to allay fears that regularly spreading millions of gallons of hog waste from the 6,500 swine at C&H on fields around Big Creek (a major tributary of the Buffalo six miles downstream) could contaminate the country's first national river.

I've spoken with experts in karst terrain who already have performed subsurface water-flow testing, proving just how fast and far dye injected into the groundwater beneath this factory and across the area travels through the fractured limestone karst. These knowledgeable folks will tell anyone who will listen that it's only a matter of time before the Buffalo reflects the results of such huge amounts of waste being dumped on fields around Mount Judea.

Yet again I'm led back to the fundamental question of why the state ever considered permitting this hog factory into such a wrongheaded location ... into the crown jewel of our state's natural tourism attraction.

And look what is being spent to keep this factory operating. Our state is appropriating hundreds of thousands of our tax dollars annually solely to sponsor a University of Arkansas study of water quality around C&H in an effort to determine if the waste is permeating the watershed and river.

In other words, Arkansas is paying the state's flagship university to analyze what the state's environmental "protection" agency should never, ever have even approved.

Now those responsible for operating this factory will spend whatever's required to consider this specialized technology, also in order to keep the mess out of our national river watershed in this inappropriate location.

Then we have geosciences professor emeritus John Van Brahana who, with his diligent team of volunteers, has spent two years objectively analyzing the water quality and subsurface flow around the watershed. Who knows how much time and energy he and his group have invested in monitoring the unnecessary situation?

Did I mention the National Park Service and all the resources it also is having to devote to this factory it never knew was taking shape in its backyard because, conveniently enough, the state's environmental agency never told them how it was quickly and quietly pushing through the C&H General Permit.

Mike Masterson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at mikemasterson10@hotmail.com.

Editorial on 07/18/2015

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