Last chance to speak on compressor expansion

Public hearing on Aug. 18: Community members opposed to the expansion say emissions a threat to health and safety


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  • Alex Lotorto (Photo by Anya Tikka)





"This facility's emissions will be equivalent to a fleet of idling diesel school buses packed into the Delaware Valley High School parking lot. In Pennsylvania, it's illegal to idle a school bus for more than 15 minutes, yet the natural gas industry is seeking permission for something a hundred times worse.”
Alex Lotorto

By Anya Tikka
— Milford already has a natural gas compression station on Firetower Road. NiSource, which owns the Columbia Pipeline system, wants to replace it with a new compressor with 13 times the capacity, said Alex Lotorto, one of the organizers of Stop the Milford Compressor Station Expansion.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, which issues one of the two permits needed for station's expansion, will hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 18, at Delaware Valley High School in Milford.

Lotorto said this is the last chance for residents to express their concerns over the expansion. He described the many adverse effects on health that a large compressor's emissions can cause, including cancer and respiratory problems.

"This facility's emissions will be equivalent to a fleet of idling diesel school buses packed into the Delaware Valley High School parking lot," he said. "In Pennsylvania, it's illegal to idle a school bus for more than 15 minutes, yet the natural gas industry is seeking permission for something a hundred times worse.”

The energy companies say the upgrade is needed to send Marcellus Shale gas developed using hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," to markets to the north and south. The chemicals released by the compressor stations are same ones used in fracking. The two shale drillers listed as customers in the permit application are Cabot Oil & Gas and Southwestern Energy, who have been cited for multiple violations across Unites State, according to www.nomilfordcompressor.org.

The stated construction start date is August 1, 2014, but required federal and state permits have not been issued yet.

NiSource's webpage says Columbia Pipeline Group "has developed an industry-leading program to reduce (greenhouse gas) emissions and now certifies these reductions through the voluntary Carbon Standard. In total, we’ve invested more than $20 million to install state-of-the-art catalysts on our compressor engines."

NiSource says infrastructure upgrades will reduce emissions over time.

"As an energy company involved in the natural gas and electric industries, environmental stewardship is a critical component of our day-to-day operations," NiSource says. "Our investment in this sustainability dimension is significant and designed to ensure the sustainable operations of our company and the communities we serve."

The company talks about "flue gas desulfurization" technology, now being installed at one of their stations in northern Indiana, that it says is "state-of-the-art technology to remove sulfur dioxide from emissions resulting from the generation of electricity." The new technology will be online by the end of the year.

But this technology is not being installed in Milford, where local residents remain skeptical. Among the practices causing most concern are "blow downs," when pressure in the pipes is released by emitting it into atmosphere.

“The industry's best practice is to not blow down or vent methane and other gases from their pipelines, but to capture it to sell downstream," Lotorto explained. "However, NiSource has refused to install necessary equipment to protect the health of residents. Blow downs are not necessary with gas capture technology, which pays itself off in one to three years.”

At the public hearing, the Clean Air Council and Energy Justice Network will review the problems caused by emissions from engine exhaust, blow downs, venting, and condensate tanks in compressor stations.

Minisink still fighting its compressor

Asha Canalos, who lives within a quarter-mile of the Minisink, N.Y., compressor station that was expanded in 2011, said several members of her rural community have respiratory sickness and are suffering from multiple other health concerns.

“The emissions contain toluene, benzene, arsenic, and radon among others,” she told The Courier. “What they release is toxic to human, plants, and animals. They contain neurotoxins that damage the nervous system, and endocrine system disruptors.”

The Minisink community is also still suffering from deep divisions brought on by sides taken over the building of the station, she said.

“Many were led to believe there would be a significant number of local jobs,” Canalos said. “It’s very common for the companies to divide communities" deliberately, she said.

The compressor station structure is also large. “It looks like an airport hangar," said Canalos.

Although Canalos and others in the community organized a protest while the compressor station was being built, they could not pursue it legally until it was already up and running. Now it's in front of the U.S. Court of Appeals, and Canalos said the decision over whether to shut the compressor station down should come any moment. She believes they have a good chance of winning.

“If they shut it down, it will be the first in USA," she said.

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