Gas field citizens learn to be activists

BY LAURA LEGERE, Times-Shamrock Writer

In the long history of natural gas development in Pennsylvania, the meeting atMontroseHigh Schoolon Dec. 6 was a first.

About 150 people – some supportive and some critical of Marcellus Shale gas development in the region – spoke or listened to comments about a proposed natural gas compressor station at a public hearing arranged by state regulators considering a permit for the station.

Dozens of compressor stations have been proposed or approved statewide in recent years by the Department of Environmental Protection but few have garnered even a handful of public comments.

Before the proposed Shields compressor station in Dimock Twp., none had ever gathered enough interest to trigger a public hearing, according to state regulators.

Now, citizens are seizing the opportunity to speak up, urged on through organized campaigns and training sessions by the Clean Air Council, an environmental group focused on air quality.

The organization figured that a lack of awareness – not a lack of concern – let so many public comment periods on compressor permits pass unnoticed. The stations are long-term installations that remove moisture and increase the pressure of gas to propel it through pipelines. They emit a mechanical hum and regulated amounts of air pollutants that can contribute to the formation of smog.

“Before now, the DEP only received maybe one or two comments on this type of equipment because people weren’t notified about these decisions,” community outreach coordinator Matt Walker said. Notice is published in a dense weekly publication of official state rules and actions called the Pennsylvania Bulletin that is “very difficult for the average citizen” to sift through, he said.

At a training session atMountain ViewHigh Schoolin September, Walkershowed residents how to participate more in the regulatory process, including by submitting letters during public comment periods that the council’s staff members alert them to online.

The training inSusquehannaCountywas Clean Air Council’s first. The more than 30 public comments submitted on Laser Northeast Gathering Co.’s Shields compressor station were enough to trigger the state’s first hearing.

A second training inLycomingCountyalerted residents to a public comment period for an expansion of Chief Gathering’s Barto compressor station. DEP held a public meeting and hearing on that permit Thursday night. The council also is working with residents to trigger hearings on two other planned compressors in the northeast.

Not all compressor projects are open to public comment. Compressors with relatively small engines or lower-level emissions are covered under a generic permit that was last revised to incorporate the best pollution controls more than a decade ago. Most compressors built in the past few years to accommodate the gas developed from the Marcellus Shale have required only a general permit.

Walkersaid his organization hopes to gather enough response to trigger a hearing for all proposed compressor stations that require a public comment period.

“We’re not going into this thinking that a compressor station will not be built,” he said, although that is a remote possibility. “We are trying to push for the absolute best available technologies to be used, not just ones that comply with regulations.”

At the hearing in Montrose, citizens spoke in favor of and against the proposed station.

Chris Lacey, a Binghamton, N.Y., resident who traveled with gas development supporters to attend the hearing, asked, “Why is this compressor receiving so much attention?

“It is being used as a scare tactic by people who want to stop the development of shale energy inPennsylvania,” she said.

Shirleen Adams, a Springville Twp. resident who lives next door to the site of the proposed station, said she has concerns about pollution, noise and traffic.

“I sure don’t think it’s fair that I have to live every day worrying about the air that I breathe,” she told the DEP officials hosting the hearing. “And I just wanted you to meet me and understand my worry.”