Appalachian Basin

Washington, PA Residents Support Mark West Expansion

Last week the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) held a public hearing for the proposed Mark West compressor station, slated for Smith Township in Washington County.  The hearing filled with residents from neighboring communities – a large majority of whom supported the Mark West expansion. 

The hearing brought out around 200 people from all over Washington County, with the majority of the attendees there to show support for the Mark West infrastructure expansion.  It began at 6:30 p.m. with an introduction on the proposed expansion given by Mark West.  Following, was an open house where attendees could ask Mark West employees more specific questions about the compressor station.  The DEP then provided residents to opportunity give public comment on the project.

Mark West started the evening out with an overview of  the company and the work they are doing in the region.  For anyone not familiar with Mark West, it’s a midstream company that gathers, compresses and processes natural gas and then moves the commodity to transmission companies who then deliver it to our homes and other end users.

Smith Township Compressor Station

Nathan Weldon, An environmental engineer with Mark West (see video below), discussed the engineering and site plan for the project with attendees.  According to Wheldon, the permit for the project would allow up to eight Waukesha engines at 1,980 horsepower, expanded capacity for a dehydration unit.  Currently permitted equipment at the site included several storage tanks that are used to store the water taken out of the gas and, emergency generators to supply back-up power. (08:45)

Wheldon then discussed the emissions that would be emitted from the Smith compressor station, noting they will be at or below the EPA and DEP emission limits.  This is because the compressor station will be using the best available technology in emission reductions. (10:00)

The engines at the station will also be at or below limits imposed by a new DEP air permit that became effective after Mark West applied for the plan approval. (11:10).

How does the Smith compressor station fall so far below the permit limits for air emissions?  Quite simply, Mark West has chosen to equip this compressor station with the best technology in air quality controls to reduce the amount of emissions.  Air quality controls that will be on site include:

  • Engines equipped with Non-Selective Catalytic Reduction (NSCR) to reduce NOx, CO, VOC and Formaldehyde emissions
  • Dehydration unit has a flash tank which recirculates captured emissions into the process and a flare to combust more then 98% of the remaining VOCs
  • Vapor Recovery Unit (VRU) is used on the storage tanks designed to capture all the VOC emissions from flashing, breathing and evaporative losses.
  • Displaced vapors from loading trucks are routed back to the storage tanks.
  • During equipment maintenance or emergency shutdown the blown-down gas is returned to the process and recovered. (16:10)

All of these processes and technologies combined, ensure the Smith compressor station will be a minor source of air emissions. The increased use of natural gas will continue to help improve air quality in pennsylvania and the nation.

Public Testimony

There were two guidelines that had to be followed when it came time for public testimony.  First, speakers had to provide their address before speaking to ensure they did, in fact, live in the area.  Secondly, residents were allotted a maximum of five minutes to speak due to time constraints.  See video below for the testimony given.

Altogether, some 33 people testified, of which 26 were in favor of the Smith compressor station while only 6 opposed it (and one was more or less neutral).  It was also interesting to note a few of those opposing the compressor station were not from Washington County.  One such speaker was there on behalf of the Heinz Endowments funded Center for Coal Field Justice who used her time to endorse the comments by the Heinz Endowments funded and Philadelphia based Clean Air Council. (03:14).

Attorney John Smith also testified, indicating he was there “on behalf of Robinson Township” as their solicitor and then presented the petition of 20 objectors. (06:00)  I wonder if the Robinson Township Supervisors asked or authorized him to speak on behalf of these 20 people.  After looking into the amount of leases signed in Robinson it is apparent that the 20 people on the petition handed in by John Smith does not hold a candle to the number of people with leases, supporting the industry.

Smith was followed by a man who happens to live adjacent to the compressor station slated to be expanded.  That man, arguably the project’s closest neighbor, supports the expansion and discussed his experience living next to the asset.  Specifically, he noted anytime he had a question Mark West was always available to answer them.  He described Mark West  as open and completely transparent.  He also took the last few seconds of his testimony to point out that the speakers before him (John Smith & the Center for Coal Field Justice) failed to give their addresses prior to giving testimony. (15:15)

The last speaker we’ll highlight was an employee of Mark West who lives in the vicinity.

I’m in a unique situation because I do work for Mark West, but I’ve lived here my whole life.  I work in designing these things and what gets me the most is that we have five levels of redundancy built into these compressor stations.  If one thing goes wrong the entire facility will shut down, show me anything now a days that has five levels of redundancy like these compressor stations.  I have a vetted interest here to make sure these compressor stations and any other infrastructure is done right.  I’ve known all of you my entire life, some of you have watched me grow up.  I’m not here to pull a line on you. (51:06)

By the end of the night it was clear a large majority of the residents in Smith Township and the surrounding communities in Washington County were supportive of the proposed Smith Township compressor station.  There’s no surprise here either – the folks who live and work nearest the activity know it best, after all.

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