Breathe Easy group advocates air quality measures
BY PAT FARNELLI
Breathe Easy, a community group in Susquehanna County, has set a goal to reduce air pollution from natural gas drilling, by advocating with the industry to protect air quality and health.
Rebecca Roter, chair of Breathe Easy Susquehanna County, said that the group will promote respectful dialogue with the industry to seek the lowest possible levels of emissions, and urging the industry to use “best technology.” Breathe Easy Susquehanna County (BESC) is a nonpartisan group based in Montrose.
“Air, we are finding, is a unifier for our community,” Roter said. “Who doesn’t want their family to breathe clean air?” She noted that breathing, unlike most human actions, is involuntary. “Air quality is the only issue we are addressing, and that is for a reason. It doesn’t matter what side of the issue of drilling you are on: you are breathing, too,” she noted. “We can all agree on maintaining air quality.”
The county has seen a boom of gas drilling activity in the past five years.
According to the County Planning Office, there are 12 compressor stations currently operating, and about 20 others in various stages of the permitting and development process.
BESC members say the industry can use technology to voluntarily reduce air pollution to levels below existing regulations. The group said some of its members have family who work in the industry while others don’t even have drilling leases.
BESC’s primary goal is to advocate for the natural gas industry to voluntarily use technologies that would reduce air emissions below what regulations require.
BESC had its first official meeting in February 2013. The meetings are not open to the public; it is important that those who attend agree to the group’s mission statement, according to Roter.
BESC decided to focus on compressor stations as they are one of the largest sources of emissions from gas infrastructure and because Susquehanna County has seen a rapid increase in the number of stations in the last few years.
Williams Companies Spokesperson Helen Humphreys said, “My understanding of the premise of the organization (BESC) is that they want to build a respectful dialogue with the natural gas industry as a whole. I think any time you open up an avenue of communication, there are benefits that come from it for both sides that can be valuable.”
Williams owns and operates many of the compressor stations and gathering lines in the county.
Humphreys said that Williams is “looking for venues to be able to talk about some of the issues of concern. We are going to start with a tour and go from there,” she said.
In urging oil and gas operators to go above and beyond state clean air regulations, BESC is hopeful that the operators will use emission-free dehydrators at every compressor station.
Roter said that compressor station air quality permits show that dehydrators emit volatile organic compounds; and, she added, that a study conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency found that the certain emission-free dehydrators, eliminate 99.7 percent.
BESC invited operators to participate in a webinar on a device called the “Picarro Surveyor,” which according to Roter, “uses cutting edge technology to detect and monitor fugitive emissions and/or methane leaks, around natural gas infrastructure and sites.”
Humphreys, when asked about the Picarro Surveyor, said, “One of the things that we discussed is that Williams has technologies that detect natural gas emissions, that we’ve invested a lot of time and money and research into already. This might be better suited for a distribution system where we would look for leaks in a gathering system.”
She said that while the gas industry is still fairly new to the area, “The same air quality used in other industries are applied to the natural gas industry – such as those standards used for the steel industry in Pennsylvania – which have become more and more stringent as time goes by.”