BY ROBERT L. BAKER
Wyoming County Press Examiner
The Wyoming County Planning Commission was apprised Wednesday night (Dec. 19) that the planning office had registered concerns about midstream facilities supporting the Marcellas gas industry and accountability.
In a letter addressed to Sen. Lisa Baker, Rep. Karen Boback, the Wyoming County Commissioners and Paul Metro, the Chief of Gas Safety at the state Public Utility Commission, county planner Paul Weilage raised two broad questions that have arisen over the Chapin Dehydration Facility, and compressor stations like it.
The Planning Commission gave preliminary approval to the Monroe Township land development in March when it had been proposed by Chief Oil & Gas, and it granted final approval in November when paperwork was pushed through by PVR Partners, a firm which had acquired Chief’s gathering assets during the year.
At the November meeting, planning commission member Richard Fitzsimmons raised the issue of whether issues the public had raised during a lengthy review process last winter had actually been addressed.
On Nov. 21, other planning commission members said noise issues were not in the purview of the body’s review process for such land developments.
Fitzsimmons cast a dissenting vote because of lingering doubts that the public – and more specifically, the neighbors’ concerns had ever been addressed.
Less than 36 hours after his vote, the same Chapin Dehydration Facility had a loud discharge across a 30-minute span around 3 a.m., on Nov. 23.
Some five million cubic feet of gas was discharged into the atmosphere, and neighbors were startled by the noise, not sure if it were even safe to evacuate.
Fitzsimmons said on reflection last Wednesday, he was stunned at how prophetic his concerns were.
A hearing involving Wyoming County Emergency Management, the state Department of Environmental Protection, the state Public Utility Commission, and area legislators was held Dec. 14 in which all concerned seemed to suggest an unacceptable communication gap.
In a larger context, Weilage said he felt the incidents were a wakeup call to a potentially flawed review process, and he wished to enter the discussion in the public interest.
The two broad questions raised in his Dec. 17 letter:
*What is the knowledge required by local jurisdictions in site development and in preparation of local emergency responders? In this case, it was not even clear that the facility would ever create noise. It became equally clear that an unexpected loud noise from such a facility evokes a response, and that people close to the facility need information before the fact. What is the acceptable level of noise from such a facility? Who is responsible for setting the noise levels allow. Is this a zoning issue? Is this going to be handled by the PUC? Is it logical to expect pipeline facility developers to divulge any and all potential problems during local review, and if not, when are citizens, officials, and emergency responders to be informed of low-likelihood events?
*Will the Commonwealth create guidelines for the development of midstream facilities? Will the state set standards for distance between automated shutoff on mainstream pipelines? Will there be a standard established for volume of gas release allowed before violations are triggered? How would that be monitored? Does the PUC have local land-use expertise to handle these quality of life issues? Does PUC have the manpower to both inspect and establish guidelines and do they even have the power to establish such regulations? Are industry standards for facility development clear or do we need additional regulation?
Weilage who is expecting to retire sometime into the New Year, said that anticipating issues before they occur is certainly a central function of county planning offices. And he wanted to make sure he and/or his successor was aprised of future discussions.
In other business, the planning body accepted a minor subdivision report that included a Vincent Marcin and Leslie Bullock subdivision in Noxen Twp., a Simmers minor land development in Mehoopany, Twp.; a Lawrence Spadine subdivision in Nicholson Twp.; and a Carlton and Dorothy Shupp land improvement subdividion in Eaton Twp.
Weilage also apprised the body that he was also reviewing a Manning Compressor Station land development proposed by UGI in Washington Twp. – which could have as many as six compressors when completed.
Weilage also apprised that seven persons had applied for the community planner position to succeed him. A committee of Walt Derhammer, Jon Howard and Randy Ehrenzeller would be screening the applicants.
The planning commission also approved a meeting schedule for 2013 which will continue to be the third Wednesday of the month at the Wyoming County EMA building at 7 p.m., unless otherwise announced.