MarkWest seeks to expand Smith compressor station

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The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection will hold a hearing to listen to public concerns over the expansion of a natural gas compressor station in Smith Township.


During an open house portion of the meeting, which will be held at 6:30 p.m. May 1 at the Smith Township municipal building, MarkWest Liberty officials will present a detailed outline of the proposed changes to the original usage permit. Following the open house, residents will be encouraged to present testimony to DEP officials. The public comments portion of the meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.


“We’re really looking for public comment,” said DEP community relations director John Poister. “We take the testimony people present during the public hearing portion as a part of our record. When we review it, we look for things in that testimony that may bear a result in any changes in the plan approval.”


Anyone interested in speaking should call Poister at 412-442-4203, or register at the municipal building the night of the hearing. Poister said residents of nearby municipalities, stakeholders, members of organizations and anyone hoping to talk to officials about the potential dangers or benefits of the proposed expansion are invited to speak.


Officials from MarkWest have asked the DEP for permission to increase the capacity of the station, near Route 22 in Smith Township. The station is currently operational with two 1,980-horsepower Waukesha rich-burn engines, but MarkWest has recently petitioned the DEP to expand to as many as eight engines in order to meet demand.


The increased emission levels are still within state guidelines.


Matt Walker, community outreach director of the Philadelphia-based Clean Air Council, said his organization hoped to present information about the environmental and air-quality effects of a large natural gas compressor station such as the one proposed in Smith Township.


“What the council is pushing for is for companies to abide by the Clean Air Act,” Walker said. “We want to make sure all the analyses are done properly, the technologies are best practice and the DEP has done their proper oversight and is not just taking a company’s word for it.”


Robert McHale, environmental compliance coordinator for MarkWest, said he welcomed any questions the public might have about the compressor station.


“If you’re interested at all, come,” McHale said. “We have a good story to tell here at MarkWest, and we love to tell it. We’re a good, safe company.”


Poister said the collection of public input was an important step in the approval process.


“We would look at anything people might bring up to make some possible changes in the way that compressor station is operated,” Poister said. “We might take another look at what they’re putting into the atmosphere or make changes if we saw something in the public testimony.”


Although the agency is hoping for a lot of participation, the DEP is mostly looking for quantitative, data-driven arguments.


“All of our analyses would have to be technical in nature. We base it on science and on numbers,” Poister said.


Compressor stations like the one in Smith Township take gasses captured from well pads in surrounding areas and send them to a processing plant in Houston through steel pipelines. MarkWest doesn’t drill for natural gas directly, but rather collects the unrefined natural gas through pipelines from well pads owned by energy companies, separating it into methane, propylene, butane and other products. Those products are then picked up by the energy companies using tanker trucks.


Walker said large compressor stations could cause a decline in air quality for local residents. He said some rural areas where similar stations operated had worse smog pollution than Los Angeles.


“I think this facility in particular, and shale gas equipment in general, has a significant impact on climate change,” Walker said. “Methane is 105 times more potent than carbon monoxide, and their permit allows them almost 100,000 tons of methane per year.”


Residents unable to attend the meeting are encouraged to send their testimony to Alan Binder at the Pa. DEP Bureau of Air Quality, Southwest Regional Office, 400 Waterfront Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15222.


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