MichCon initiates brownfield remediation projects at former manufactured gas plant locations
Before natural gas became widely available in the 1940s and ‘50s, “manufactured gas” produced from coal was used for lighting, cooking and heating in homes and businesses. The process of producing coal gas was developed in Europe during the early 1800s, and by the turn of the century, most cities and towns in the United States had one or more plants producing manufactured gas and sending the fuel through underground pipelines to its customers.
As natural gas – which is extracted from underground geological formations – replaced manufactured gas, the manufactured gas plants (MGPs) were shut down. Typically, buildings and other surface structures were demolished and the sites were used for other industrial operations. Underground structures, including holding tanks for the tarry byproducts of the MGP process, often were left in place.
In the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s, when the MGPs were being shut down, the environmental impact of plant operations were not well understood. In the 1980s, industry and state and federal environmental agencies began studying these sites and recognized that plant operations and the way in which MGPs were abandoned had resulted in residual contamination at the sites. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 3,000 to 5,000 former manufactured gas plant (MGP) sites located in towns and cities across the country.
As MichCon, founded in 1849, grew into the statewide utility it is today it acquired numerous local gas companies that had operated manufactured gas plants. The company today is responsible for a total of 15 sites throughout the state. A preliminary response and investigation has been completed at each site. Full remediation and closure has been achieved at two sites in Detroit. In addition, a portion of former Grand Rapids MGP has been remediated and redeveloped as the site of the Tassell Michigan Technical Education Center (M-TEC) for Grand Rapids Community College.