County Issues Permit for Frazer Twp. Compressor Station

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On May 18, the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) Air Quality Program issued a permit to Superior Appalachian Pipeline (SAP) to construct a natural gas compressor station in Frazer Township.  This station will gather, process, compress, and transfer natural gas from Marcellus wells in that area, and will be the first Marcellus compressor station in Allegheny County.  The site will include five compressor engines, three dehydrators, and two wastewater storage tanks.  The full permit can be accessed here.

GASP has closely watched the development of this station.  We submitted comments to ACHD, and held a public meeting to provide more information about the facility and advice on how to craft and submit comments.  We also asked ACHD to hold a public hearing and extend the comment period. ACHD granted these requests and, on March 27th, heard testimony from over two dozen citizens. See our web page dedicated to this station here.

The public outcry resulted in significant improvements to the final permit, which includes numerous changes to better protect human and environmental health.  (The entire Comment Response document can be found here.)  For instance, GASP was aware of similar facilities that better control their volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and formaldehyde emissions, and demanded the same controls be applied here.  As a result, VOC and formaldehyde emissions will be reduced by an additional 44% and 58% respectively.   SAP conducted ambient air modeling to ensure that their emissions would not endanger human health and raised compressor engine stack heights to further reduce exposure.

Other positive results have to do with the way emissions from these sources are counted.  Our comments led to the inclusion of additional VOC emissions that were previously overlooked.  ACHD took a closer look at the facilities to be connected to the proposed compressor station, a necessary step to determine if the facilities should be permitted as a single source.  ACHD is also requiring an analysis of produced water every six months, to verify the emissions estimates of VOCs from that source.  Should the compressor station receive “wet gas,” VOC emissions would rise.

In all, ACHD conducted a more thorough review of potential emissions, has a more accurate grasp of the facility’s potential effect on human and environmental health, and required more emissions reductions in some areas than had been previously accepted.  Perhaps most importantly, we’ve set a strong precedent, ensuring any future compressor stations proposed in Allegheny County are subject to rigorous review.

While the final permit is much improved, this facility is just one part of a much bigger problem. Though this station is legally defined as a “minor source” of air pollution, it still has the potential to emit about 35 tons of nitrogen oxides and 13.5 tons of VOCs each year.  Both of these pollutants are ozone precursors, and our region already struggles to meet federal health-based standards for ozone.  While this facility may be deemed “minor” when considered in isolation, this is just one of hundreds of other compressor stations and thousands of well sites constructed in the Marcellus in the past several years.  The combined air quality impact of these sources is anything but minor.  The pollutants added to our air from this and other Marcellus sources will make reducing our ozone level that much harder.  That’s why GASP will continue its efforts to get regulators to see the big picture and realize that these minor sources add up to a major problem.  (For example, read GASP’s comments to PA DEP regarding the agency’s “general permit 5″—an expedited compressor station permit that would eliminate the very opportunity for public comment which proved so effective during the Frazer compressor permitting process.)

Thanks to all who commented on this permit and helped improve it.  We have a long way to go before the environmental challenges posed by natural gas development are adequately addressed. But your comments helped make this permit a step in the right direction.

2 Comments

  1. I see nothing in the permit regulating lighting. I hope shielded lighting will be implemented as there is a observatory operated by the Amateur Astronomers of Pittsburgh nearby. They do free public star parties twice a month and it would be a shame if the stars would be obliterated by light from the pumping station.

    - William Moutz | 12:18pm 7 Jun 12
  2. William, I’ve updated the blog post to include a link to the Comment Response document. Light pollution was an issue raised (see Comment #6). ACHD’s response was that the permit is for air issues and that they don’t have authority to regulate lighting.

    - Jamin | 12:23pm 7 Jun 12

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