As construction continues on a compressor station near Route 22 in Smith Township, at least one area resident has voiced concerns that the MarkWest Liberty facility will negatively affect her life.
“What bothers me is the winds,” said Irene Barrie. Though her property lies in McDonald, she said it is across a valley from the energy facility. “It blows from west to east most days, and that’s going to put any emissions from there directly in my path.”
MarkWest recently filed an intent-to-issue plan approval document with the state Department of Environmental Protection requesting authorization to run eight 1,980-horsepower, natural gas-fired compressor engines with a dehydration unit in Smith Township, up from two engines in its original permit for the facility.
The company is seeking permission from the DEP to emit an estimated 50.1 tons of nitrogen oxides, 56.9 tons of carbon monoxide, 43.6 tons of volatile organic compounds, 5.5 tons of particulate matter, 6.74 tons of total hazardous air pollutants, 1.9 tons of formaldehyde, 0.51 tons of benzene and 91,607 tons of carbon dioxide equivalents per year. In the original permit, the Smith compressor had allowances of 18.6 tons of nitrogen oxides, 7.9 tons of volatile organic compounds and 11.6 tons of carbon monoxide.
The increased emissions totals still fall within state limits. The DEP said the agency won’t know whether the stations are in compliance until they are installed and tested.
“Besides that, there’s the noise,” Barrie said. “I’ve done research online, and a lot of residents in areas near compressor stations say there’s a constant noise, similar to an old furnace running all the time, that’s punctuated with mild jet-engine like noises.
“They complain of not sitting on decks, not having their windows open in the summer because there’s that constant noise.”
Residents have until Monday to submit concerns in writing to the DEP or request that the agency hold a hearing on the proposal. However, DEP air quality specialist Alan Binder said Thursday he has not yet received any requests for a hearing and just one written comment voicing concerns.
The compressor stations owned by MarkWest take gases captured from drill pads and send them to the main plant in Houston to be separated into methane, propylene, butane and other natural gas products. Gases are transported to the station via pipelines that snake directly from well pads and energy companies, using tractor-trailers, pick up the finished byproducts.
MarkWest officials said the emission limits fall well below the DEP’s guidelines. Robert McHale, environmental compliance coordinator for MarkWest, said the company spent over $1 million on the sound-dampening structure that encloses the station. The noise outside a similar structure in Houston was contained to under 60 decibels – the environmental equivalent of two people having a normal conversation.
Smith Township Supervisor Thomas Shilinski said the MarkWest filing was by the book, as far as he was concerned.
“They’ve been building that structure for two years,” Shilinski said. “They went through us for building permits.”
Shilinski said supervisors were given a tour of an operational MarkWest compressor station so they would know what was being built nearby.
“They spent a lot of money on those structures,” Shilinkski said. “We were right outside of it and couldn’t hear a thing until they opened the door.”
MarkWest maintains it is doing everything it can to leave as small a footprint as possible.
“MarkWest is a responsible company operating safe facilities,” McHale said. “We’re in compliance with all the appropriate rules and regulations and strive to exceed those rules.”
After the original permit was issued in March, “the natural gas production plans of MarkWest’s customers were increased and MarkWest submitted an application to … increase the planned capacity of the Smith compressor station with additional horsepower compression engines to handle the increased gas production,” McHale said.
“Importantly, even at the increased capacity, with the use of best achievable technology engines, the emissions from this compressor station will remain below the limits established in the Department of Environmental Protection general permit provisions.”
Matt Walker of the Clean Air Council said exposure to the pollutants could still cause harm at any level.
“There is strong evidence that shows nitrogen oxide emissions from compressor stations are well over federal limits. Greenhouse gas emissions are also grossly underestimated due to the conservative multipliers that don’t reflect current science,” Walker said.
“The emissions for pollutants like nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds would be very roughly comparable to driving 60 18-wheelers around for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, based on a horsepower comparison. The greenhouse gas emissions would be well over this amount.”
State Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, said residents need to realize that compressor stations are different than gas well sites. “They’re not going anywhere; they’re staying there forever. You have to look at them with more of a critical eye,” he said.
Residents have until Monday to request a hearing by writing to Southwest Region Air Quality Program, 400 Waterfront Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15222-4745. Residents can also contact Alan Binder at 412-442-4168.