The Era of Manufactured Gas
The introduction of manufactured gas in the early 1830s was a step forward in modernizing the nation by providing a constant source of energy for cooking, lighting and hot water. Manufactured gas also was used for street lighting and in many manufacturing processes. Predating the widespread use of electricity, manufactured gas brought homes and businesses the convenience of a continuous flow of energy.
Although many municipalities across the country owned and/or operated manufactured gas plants (MGPs), the majority of MGPs in the United States were owned by corporate entities. In 1904, over 91 percent of MGPs were under corporate ownership. By World War I (WWI), the manufactured gas industry was a major industry in the nation. The history of NJNG demonstrates this transition from small town gas plants to larger county facilities serving a broader population, to eventual corporate ownership.
The Manufacturing Process
The manufacturing process applied the technology of the day to produce gas, using coal, coke, which is a coal product, and water. The coal and coke were gasified when they were distilled in heated vessels and broken down into their components.
Because the gas contained moisture and coal particulates, it would undergo a cleansing process before it was pumped into storage tanks. Nevertheless, by today's standards, the gas remained "wet" and still contained a significant amount of coal particulates. Both the moisture and the particulates would drop out of the gas while stored and accumulate at the bottom of the tanks. This accumulation is known as coal tar.
Coal tar is black with an adhesive-like or "sticky" texture and looks like and has an odor similar to roofing tar. In fact, coal tar had its own market for uses such as road paving, roofing materials and coating for bulkheads and docks. Coal tar is still used today in a wide variety of consumer products, such as dandruff shampoos and lotions for certain skin conditions.
MGP Industry Slows as Interstate Pipelines Are Introduced
The years between the end of WWI and the beginning of World War II (WWII) witnessed the decline of the manufactured gas industry as advances in the manufacture of high-pressure pipes and pumping systems led to the construction of interstate pipelines for natural gas. By the 1950s, natural gas was available throughout most of the United States using the interstate pipeline network.
Following this trend, natural gas was first introduced to NJNG's service territory in the early 1950s, when Texas Eastern converted two of its pipelines to natural gas. These lines had been constructed earlier to assist in the war effort by providing crude oil from Texas to Linden, New Jersey for refining during WWII. A spur was built from these lines in Jamesburg, New Jersey and ran into Long Branch.
Access to the abundant supplies of natural gas put the manufactured gas industry at a competitive disadvantage because small neighborhood gas plants could not compete with much lower priced natural gas. Manufactured gas was further disadvantaged because its heating ability, determined by its British thermal unit (Btu) content, was significantly lower than natural gas. The higher Btu content of natural gas allowed it to be used for heating, while manufactured gas could not serve this purpose. A few MGPs continued in operation into the second half of the 20th century, supplying industrial operations that had not converted to other energy sources. The last plants in the United States to supply residential consumers with coal gas ceased operations by the mid-1960s. NJNG's last working plant stopped manufacturing gas in the mid-1950s.
Environmental Regulations Established
In 1970, both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) were created. The EPA's founding coincided with the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. It was during this time period that such laws as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act and the Marine Protection Research and Sanctuaries Act -- to name just a few -- were passed.
The 1980s saw sweeping reform of existing environmental laws and the establishment of new ones. Additional regulations addressing environmental issues included the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, the Hazardous and Solid Waste Act and the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA).
In 1980, the Army Corps of Engineers discovered by-products from an MGP in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania while dredging a nearby creek. By that time, NJNG had already begun decommissioning its sites. The majority of aboveground structures at all three sites had been removed in the early 1970s. The final holder at the Atlantic Highlands site was taken down in 1981.
In 1983, the NJDEP directed utilities to begin assessing the potential health and environmental impacts of MGP sites. By 1984, NJNG had begun investigations of all of its former MGP sites, and by the end of the decade, had executed Administrative Consent Orders (ACO) with the NJDEP for the Atlantic Highlands and Toms River sites. The Long Branch ACO followed in 1991. Each ACO established required actions.
Since the 1980s, NJNG has been actively involved in investigating the potential impacts from each MGP site, including identifying whether any substances found were MGP-related. This process was complex because the materials of concern for MGP sites are also created by many sources commonly found in the environment, including automobile exhaust, wood-burning stoves, asphalt and road paving.
During this time, it became apparent that it was necessary to inform the general community of efforts at MGP sites. NJNG adopted a philosophy of broad communications and in 1996 began community and education outreach that extended beyond the owners of properties directly affected.
By 2000, NJNG was actively improving both the Long Branch and Atlantic Highlands sites while continuing investigative efforts continued in Toms River. Although considerable work still remains at all three sites, by 2005, NJNG had completed several phases of each project and had secured preliminary approval from the NJDEP for its proposed remedial solution for the Toms River site. The safety of the residents and surrounding communities remain NJNG's primary consideration in advancing site improvements toward their successful completion.