Climate Central Shoot in Linden, NJ: Part 1 of 2

Day One: Thursday, November 19

By Jessica Harrop

Jessica Harrop on the PurGen One site, with Jim Croyle
in the background

I woke up and put on as much cold weather gear as I could. It was Day One of our Climate Central shoot in Linden, NJ, for our latest segment to air on PBS’s The News Hour with Jim Lehrer in December. Michael Lemonick, Climate Central’s Senior Staff Writer, picked me up, and we headed out to a contaminated brownfield on the Arthur Kill. It is a site where a small but determined company called SCS Energy, LLC hopes to create the nation’s first commercial carbon capture and sequestration (CSS) power plant, and turn a profit. They call it PurGen One.

As the Production Coordinator, my job is to organize the shoot and make things run smoothly. There is always a long list of things to worry about. The first is to make sure that everyone is able to find the meeting place, and get there on time. We met our correspondent, Climate Central’s Dr. Heidi Cullen, and three members of SCS Energy – Jim Croyle, Co-Founder, Tim Bauer, Project Manager, and Brad Campbell, Public Affairs Counsel. The site is a 100-acre empty field, nested between the New Jersey turnpike to the west, the Arthur Kill to the east, and natural gas plants to the north and south. Though the location is ideal for a coal power plant, it is horrible for recording sound. I could see the soundman grimacing, and realized that the field is adjacent to a large generator, a freeway, a railroad track, and an airport! Every 4 minutes an airplane would fly by, bringing with it overpowering noise. There’s not much you can do in noisy environments, except pause an interview when the planes get too loud, and record what is called “roomtone,” or background noise, so that the editor can do what he can to even out the audio in the final product.

We proceeded to interview Tim and Brad, but encountered another problem: rain. The single most challenging thing about shooting outdoors is the weather. It is usually too hot, too cold, raining, snowing, or too sunny. When you are in the middle of a muddy field, with no shelter for miles around, holding very expensive equipment, cold rain is not fun. We managed to wait for the first short storm to clear, then interviewed Tim. Another part of my job is to help the cameraman find good locations for the interviews. The location has to be picturesque, but should also give clues as to the interviewee’s background, and what he or she will discuss.

As we were finishing Tim’s interview, the rain started again, and we had to wait another 20 minutes for it to stop, before we could interview Brad. On a shoot, the last thing anyone wants to worry about is what the interviewees will say. That is another part of my job: to pre-interview the characters, and make sure that they understand the questions we will ask and that we have a clear sense of how they will answer. Therefore it was no surprise that Tim and Brad could explain in impeccable detail the general concept behind PurGen One. It will be used coal for electricity. But instead of burning the coal, they plan to gasify it (turn it into gas, without combustion), which enables them to remove carbon dioxide and other pollutants, and isolate hydrogen. The hydrogen can then be used to make electricity for homes and industries when the price of electricity is high. When the price is low—on nights and weekends, for example—the hydrogen will be used to make chemical products, like urea (an ingredient in fertilizer). By incorporating these two uses of hydrogen, the idea is that the plant will always be making money, paying for the large capital investment required to build a CCS plant.

The second new component at this facility will be a 24-inch wide pipeline, which will transport the carbon dioxide from the plant 70 miles out to sea. Tim showed us the exact location in which the pipe will enter the Arthur Kill.