Marcellus Shale

Philly-based Clean Air Council Aggravates and Aggregates

Last night, the Clean Air Council (a traveling road show out of Philadelphia ) rolled into tiny Herrickville, Bradford County, Pa. (population 676) to entertain.  The excuse was a Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) hearing on Southwestern Energy’s application to install a new compressor at an existing station, a fairly innocuous project that, nonetheless, provided an opportunity for the Clean Air Council to fire another broadside against the natural gas industry.  The usual suspects were there, including Matt Walker, his lawyer friend and the ubiquitous Rebecca Roter of Tinicum Township, Bucks County who always claims to be from nearby Kingsley.

The crowd was small with no more than a handful or two of local residents, several of whom spoke with New York accents, raising suspicions in this observer’s mind about just how local they really were.  There were some serious-minded residents who attended and asked good questions but, with the exception of yours truly, the bulk of the testimony came from individuals who delivered remarks largely scripted by the Clean Air Council, which is trying to make the case for applying permit limits to groups of widely separated activities (called aggregation) so as to frustrate the development of natural gas infrastructure.  Fortunately, Southwestern Energy’s presentation was strong and straightforward, directly countering and correcting most of the distortions that were put forth.  Both the company and DEP fully answered all questions put to them, as the Clean Air Council huffed and puffed about aggregation.

Southwestern Presents the Facts

I’ve attended thousands of meetings and hearings over my career and, in the course of that experience, I’ve learned to recognize good witnesses.  They are always short and to the point, relentlessly honest and without rancor.  They are also confident enough to avoid gilding the lily and simply let the facts be the facts.  Stewart Burrow of Southwestern fits this mold perfectly.  He spelled out the company’s plans, took all questions and answered each in a matter-of-fact manner.  Here are some examples:

The proposal, by Southwestern’s affiliated Angelina Gathering Company, is to add a fifth compressor to four previously approved units at the Greenzweig Compressor Station in Herrick Township.  The additional station will provide additional power for transporting gas to a network of natural gas pipelines.  Angelina submitted an application in April 2011, to DEP for construction of a natural gas fired compressor engine equipped with an oxidation catalyst. The proposed engine is a 1,775 horsepower, natural gas fired Caterpillar unit that will provide power to a natural gas compressor.  It will increase the pressure of the incoming natural gas to the facility and discharge the gas at a higher pressure. The proposed engine will be equipped with a ”clean burn” electronic control system to control NOX emissions. Additionally, emissions from the proposed engine will be controlled by a GT Exhaust Systems oxidation catalyst unit. DEP has determined the potential emissions of all criteria air contaminants, including greenhouse gases, from the proposed project, will not exceed major emission thresholds. Therefore, the facility will be a minor facility under DEP’s classification system.

Clean Air Council Orchestrates Hearing

Such minor facilities have, in the past, typically not involved public hearings since there’s very little room for discretion with such an application — as opposed to a municipal land use application, for example, where multiple subjective factors are involved.  Hearings are, nonetheless, permitted when a significant number of citizens request the agency hold one.  The Clean Air Council has been on a campaign to request hearings on every application in an obvious attempt to frustrate natural gas development by slowing down infrastructure development.  It appears at virtually every hearing with a small group of activists from hither and yon combined with whoever it can find locally to oppose projects.  Turnout last night was very small, but it was clear the attendees had been coached at a pre-hearing workshop where they were instructed “how to craft comments and testimony to influence decisions on permits.”

Among the attendees who testified (10 in all) was a “small farmer” from Sidney Center, New York, (near Walton) named Howard Hannum, who complained that “living downwind  is an absolute toxic disaster.”  It wasn’t clear what Hannum, a Philadelphian who migrated to upstate New York, meant by “downwind” given that he lives 63 miles to the east in another state in the middle of the New York City watershed, where natural gas development is not being proposed.  Nonetheless, it’s hard to imagine the emissions from one engine that will meet state permit requirements creating a toxic disaster anywhere.  Could Mr. Hannum be exaggerating?  He’s certainly known for going over the top as he did recently in the Town of Oneonta, New York, when he suggested a town board member with natural gas interests not only recuse himself from a meeting but “be removed from the meeting room and … have the door shut behind him.”  Hannum is apparently not big on free speech when it comes to his opponents.  Mr. Hannum is a signer of the Sovereign People’s Action Networkpetition to criminalize hydro-fracking,” so I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.

Rebecca Roter also provided testimony, after arriving late, about her “experience” living in nearby Kingsley for the last several years and watching the “rapid industrialization” of the area.  Her testimony was essentially a rant against natural gas development but somehow she neglected to mention her home in Bucks County, where she and her Ferrari Club of America Treasurer husband Ben (formerly of Rodale’s), actually reside and send their children to school.  She asked DEP representatives to “look at me and our children” and claimed they were being treated as “necessary sacrifices.”  One suspects she might have been late because of the long drive from Philadelphia but it seems to never  have occurred to her that the supposed “industrialization” of Herrickville might not have made as much of an impact on her and her children’s health as the conditions in Buck County, where she actually lives.

Southwestern’s Record and Science Will Rule the Day

One thing’s for sure: Roter is willing to go just about anywhere to support the work of the Clean Air Council, while also ingratiating herself with EPA on matters of Dimock methane migration.  She, like Hannum, is a committed opponent of all things natural gas.  Both are downstaters with places in the country. Nothing wrong with that, of course; we certainly don’t begrudge or resent them for their success. But let’s put to bed once and for all this notion of these folks being local. They’re not. And yet, they continue to represent themselves that way.

Nevertheless, when DEP acts on this permit, it will be looking at the science, and SWN’s plans and record, rather than the antics of the Clean Air Council.   Here is an excerpt from the company’s website explaining some of the things it does to be a good neighbor and employ the best technology:

Air Emission Reduction Activities

Southwestern Energy reduces emissions by complying with applicable federal and state regulations and participating in voluntary emission reduction programs. As part of our best management practices, we use equipment and design facilities which meet or exceed the regulatory and permit requirements, including:

  • Implementing green completions that minimize venting of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and methane during well completion
  • Using “ultra lean” burning engines which limit NOx emissions
  • Installing additional catalyst banks on engines controlled with catalyst
  • Using closed loop systems for gas recovery from engine blowdowns
  • Using flash tanks and vapor recovery systems on glycol reboilers
  • Using vapor recovery systems on condensate storage tanks
  • Using electric drive compression
  • Using FLIR camera to survey facilities, take direct measurements and identify fugitive emissions containing VOCs and methane

EPA Natural Gas STAR

Southwestern Energy is also an active participant in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Natural Gas STAR program. The Natural Gas STAR program is a voluntary program which encourages companies to recover or reduce emissions of methane to the atmosphere. Key voluntary emission reduction activities implemented by Southwestern Energy include:

  • Installing flash tank separators on glycol dehydrators
  • Using automated compressors to reduce venting
  • Installing no bleed pneumatic controls
  • Installing air/fuel ratio controllers
  • Installing electric or solar powered pumps

In 2009, we reported reduced methane emissions by 2.621 Bcf. We substantially increased our reported methane emission reductions almost three-fold to 7.708 Bcf in 2010. Our 2009 reduction levels in methane emissions is approximately equivalent to off-setting the CO2 emissions from the electricity consumption of 128,665 homes for one year or the annual greenhouse gas emissions for 202,715 cars.

The Clean Air Council orchestra is no match for this superb record.  They talk aggregation but what they’re really about is aggravation, nothing more.

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