Protesting Natural Gas Usage to Get Cleaner Air. Huh?
The Clean Air Council is once again making the trek from Philadelphia to the Marcellus; this time to try to stop the distribution of natural gas to homes and businesses in Luzerne County.
The Clean Air Council (CAC) has been behind most, if not all, of the compressor station hearings in the Marcellus region. They travel here from Philadelphia, use big numbers taken out of context and faulty modeling studies like the one discussed earlier this week on this blog to cause undue alarm in residents. It’s fear mongering at its worst. They have an agenda (and a grant) to stop all natural gas development, and they’re doing so by targeting infrastructure.
Now they’ve taken their road show to another level. This group, hailing from a large natural gas usage market, is also trying to stop distribution to homes and businesses in Luzerne County, another area with a heavy reliance on natural gas, targeting a long time business in the state: UGI Utilities.
Let’s take a moment first to look at the proposed project the CAC is opposing in Luzerne County.
UGI and Luzerne County
UGI has a long history in Pennsylvania–dating back to 1882, when it became the nation’s first public-utility holding company. It was incorporated officially in Pennsylvania in 1991, and just three years later was serving over 60,000 customers in Wyoming and Luzerne counties alone. Today it has over 600,000 residential customers in Pennsylvania. From 2011 to 2012, UGI more than doubled its number of customers who converted to natural gas, according to their 2012 annual report. In other words, adding a needed compressor or gate station to meet the demands of its growing customer base is something UGI employees are experienced at — and have a successful history building.
Originally, the company planned to build a compressor station, but has recently revised these plans to only include a gate house. The Citizens Voice recently went on a tour of another gate station in the area to get a better idea of what this would entail, and excerpts from it can be found below (emphasis added).
Anyone driving on state Route 11 past the Wyoming Monument can see in its shadow the two small brick structures surrounded by fencing.
But not everybody notices them.
The buildings house pipes, valves and meters used to take gas from the Transco interstate pipeline and direct it into the UGI Penn Natural Gas distribution system, to serve customers throughout the West Side.
UGI spokesman Joe Swope and Project Manager Bruce Davis took local media on a tour of their building – the other belongs to Williams, the company which owns the Transco – on Wednesday to demonstrate what a natural gas gate station looks like, inside and out.
“A gate station is simply a facility where two pipelines intersect, and gas is taken from one pipeline and put into another,” Swope said.
“It’s very environmentally benign, and there’s no hidden agendas, there’s no compressor stations.”
The station is similar to one UGI Penn Natural Gas plans to build off North Ridge Lane near Reggie Lane in West Wyoming. The company has petitioned the state Public Utility Commission for exemption from local zoning regulations, stating that it is a utility that provides natural gas to customers.
UGI Energy Services, a separate company, is constructing a 28-mile pipeline from natural gas wells in Wyoming County to connect to the Transco interstate pipeline in West Wyoming. UGI Penn Natural Gas, which is buying the gas, needs the gate station to distribute it to customers at what Swope said would be a savings. He said the hope is to have it up and running by this fall.
The buildings are supposed to blend into the surroundings. Many people don’t notice the Monument station even if they pass it all the time, according to Swope.“There’s actually a dozen different gate stations in the Penn Natural Gas service area,” he said.
WNEP also ran a story on the project, quoting local resident Barbara Dominick who lives by another gate station.
Barbara Dominick has lived across the street from the gate station for 15 years and says neighbors of the possible new station in West Wyoming have no reason to worry.
“We’ve never had a problem. I’ve seen a lot of men working over there at different times, but we’ve never had a problem of any sort.”
So we have a company with an extensive history, a high demand for the product they offer, and most people don’t even notice the existing similar infrastructure. What’s the problem?
CAC Fighting Natural Gas Infrastructure at Every Turn
The Clean Air Council and a group of local citizens are trying to stop the project because, frankly, they just don’t like natural gas. UGI, interestingly, got its start in Philadelphia, and the city currently uses natural gas as its primary heating source.
Natural gas has repeatedly been cited as having a major impact in the reduction of emissions across the country in the last year–bringing CO2 emissions to a 20 year low–but the Clean Air Council continues to oppose infrastructure needed to deliver this clean-burning resource to the consumer market.
Their actions with this compressor station reflect what they’ve been doing across the Marcellus: they give a presentation, exaggerating and taking numbers out of context, then testifying in the same manner — all to add a level of severity to a situation where one doesn’t exist. DEP has even brought to light (and thoroughly debunked) a modeling report CAC has been waving around to inaccurately portray emissions from compressor stations at much higher levels than actual data show.
Despite the fact natural gas usage is helping to improve air quality across the country and the long history of this type of infrastructure, as well as in the major natural gas market of Philadelphia, CAC fought to halt the project from others who could benefit from it, including filing a cross-appeal to prevent it from being built.
Now, UGI has moved the compressor station project to a new location and only plans to build a gate house in West Wyoming, and yet the project is still being opposed. Consider the goal posts moved, I suppose.
Luzerne County Citizens for Clean Air has even gone as far as filing a Petition to Intervene with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) after UGI filed for exemption to local zoning, due to its status as a public utility. The eleven signers of the petition all have differing degrees of relevancy to the project. Seven of them actually live in West Wyoming, where the proposed project will be located, but of those, only three are described as living in “close proximity” to the project, which will be located in a wooded area with an access road needing to be built to get to it.
The most interesting thing about the signers: five of the eleven are customers of UGI, petitioning against a facility to bring the same source of energy to others in the county. Do they have current issues with UGI directing this action? Nope. Their concern as outlined in the petition is UGI didn’t provide sufficient information, despite acknowledging receiving UGI’s testimony describing the project in detail. (PNG Statement No. 1 P-2013-2347105)
Beginning on page five of the testimony, a UGI spokesperson goes through each part of the project, from the acreage to what each building will be used for and how large each will be. In other words, UGI provides the exact details that Luzerne County Citizens for Clean Air claim have not been made available.
This project is part of a public utility to which many of us living in rural Pennsylvania would love the opportunity to have access. And in an area where they have historically been able to use this resource, it’s now being opposed as if it is something new, simply because of the natural gas development occurring in nearby counties.
UGI is just a convenient target for those with an ideological agenda who are trying to hold innocent Wyoming Valley consumers hostage over an issue they have with natural gas development and fossil fuel use. Tragically, it’s the consumers who will be the real victim in all of this.