Fracking Affects Myersville Even Without Drilling

In talking about ‘fracking‘, the industry commonly tries to limit the public discussion to the actual process of injecting liquid at high pressure into rock formations to extract gas. However, there is a broad and immense network of infrastructure that is required to support that process, including storage facilities, compressor stations, metering stations, processing facilities, gathering lines, and intrastate and interstate pipelines. And regulatory oversight of those components falls to various local and federal agencies, if and when it is regulated at all.

Very generally speaking, activities related to drilling fall under state authority while the federal government has oversight of interstate pipelines and associated facilities. Part of what that means to my family, and what that has meant for the Town of Myersville, is that even though there is currently no fracking in Maryland, the natural gas boom has already negatively affected our community.

landscapeview300wAllow me to tell you a little bit about Myersville; it is a picturesque rural community of approximately sixteen-hundred, nestled in the Middletown Valley of Frederick County.

We celebrate the opening day of Little League with a parade down Main Street. Our volunteer fire department delights our elementary school children by cooling them off with the fire hoses at the end of year Field Day and by tossing candy from the fire trucks during the annual Christmas parade. Myersville is a place where many families have lived for generations and where newcomers have settled, having found the serenity and closeness a small community offers.

aerialmap300wAnd yet, it is here, only about one mile from our only elementary school, closer still to the Town Hall, and within two miles of the every home in town, that Dominion Transmission, a subsidiary of Virginia-based power giant Dominion, sought to build and operate a 16 thousand horsepower natural gas compressor station to move gas along its interstate pipeline.

Every year, the compressor station would release at least 23.5 tons per year of Nitrogen Oxides in addition to particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, and green houses gases. Of course that’s assuming that the compressor station is operating as expected.

We know that Nitrogen Oxide causes respiratory problems, heart conditions, and lung damage. Volatile Organic Compounds are carcinogenic and toxic substances that can damage the liver, kidney and central nervous system and can combine with nitrogen oxides to form ground-level ozone, which can cause asthma and decrease lung function. Sulfur Dioxide, along with nitrogen oxide, is a principal contributor to acid rain. Sulfur dioxide reacts with other chemicals to form particulate pollution, which can damage lungs and cause respiratory illness, heart conditions, and premature death. All this less than one mile from our elementary school and in the state with the highest number of premature deaths related air pollution. And in a county that receives an F from the American Lung Association for ozone pollution.

myersvillerally500w

The citizens of Myersville were overwhelming opposed to this plan. The so-called scoping meeting, where the plan to construct the station was presented drew a huge, standing room only crowd. We held rallies, more than 600 people letters in opposition, we hired an attorney, and formed a community group.

road250wDTI countered that they wanted to be ‘good neighbors’ and offered to make the structure look like a barn or, because they wanted to make sure we understood, “more rural”. DTI also stated that the station was appropriately placed in the ‘industrial’ section of Myersville, which, in fact, consisted of a gas station, a caterpillar dealership, and the municipal waste water treatment plant.

In August of 2012, the Town Council unanimously voted against Dominion’s application to amend the Town Master Plan, finding among others things that the project posed a risk to the citizens. And by doing so, the Town denied Dominion the necessary local zoning approval required by Maryland Department of the Environment to issue an air permit. Despite all of this, in December of 2012, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — or FERC — authorized the project. Armed with that certificate, DTI sued both the Town of Myersville and MDE, using the power of federal preemption granted in the Natural Gas Act to override local and state zoning.

FERCrubberstamp212wSo what is FERC? Well, it is an independent regulatory agency within the US Department of Energy with jurisdiction over interstate electricity sales, natural gas pricing, and oil pipeline rates. It also reviews and authorizes liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, interstate natural gas pipelines and hydropower projects. The President and Congress DO NOT review FERC decisions. The decisions are reviewable by the Federal Courts. The Commission itself is composed of five members, or Commissioners, who are appointed by the President of the United States. No more than three Commissioners may belong to the same political party. However, the agency has proven susceptible to lobbying and political influence and it has long been seen as a revolving door, with many former employees now employed by industry. The Commission recovers the full cost of its operations through annual charges and filing fees assessed on the very industry it regulates.

When assessing a natural gas project, FERC states that the review is ‘primarily an economic test’ and once that ‘test’ is satisfied, the projects are then reviewed under the National Environmental Protection Act. But here, FERC has stated that the impacts to the environment, including the human environment, in other words, people, need not equal zero, as long as the impacts are “mitigated”. So for instance, there are some pollution controls or sound walls or vapor barriers. None of that is very assuring to those of us who have to live next to those facilities. And many communities, after investing time and money and energy into the FERC process, find it little more than a rubberstamp for the industry.

In fact, in a recent case before the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, the FERC attorney stated that the Commission ‘assumes that applications submitted by project sponsors are going to be created in a way that are designed to obtain commission approval because the sponsor invest substantial sums in putting applications together.’ Moreover, FERC actually holds conferences with the industry to teach it how to navigate the system. Impacted communities on the other hand get a pamphlet.

And today, in spite of our best efforts, as you enter Myersville, you are greeted by Dominion’s toxic-emission spewing gas compressor station.

beforeandafterDTI500w

But, unfortunately, that is not the end of the story. Because less than two weeks after the compressor station was placed in-service, DTI announced its plans to seek FERC approval to essentially double the amount of compression at the station, adding 15,900 hp of compression.

And while Myersville may be the one of the first communities in Maryland impacted by build out from fracking, I can assure you it will not be the last.

Already, our friends in Cove Point, Maryland are battling the huge LNG export facility, and Williams Transco is seeking approval to increase compression capabilities in Howard County. In fact, an industry group states that to support natural gas drilling, they will need, per year:

• 850 miles of new natural gas transmission mainlines

• 800 miles of new laterals to and from power plants, processing facilities and storage fields

• 14,000 miles of new gas gathering lines, and

• more than 580,000 hp per year in of compression.

To put that into a bit of perspective, here is a 2008 map of natural gas pipelines and compressor stations.

compressorstationsmap500w

So when we discuss fracking, we need to consider all the impacts associated with it — from drilling rigs, compressor stations, pipelines, processing plants, storage facilities and export plants. We must not allow separate regulatory schemes to divide and conquer us. Because what happens to our neighbors in West Virginia, in Pennsylvania, in Ohio, in Western MD, in Myersville, in Howard County, in Lusby, affects all us.

Thank you for your interest.


mcrc_banner_500w

Myersville Citizens for a Rural Community on the web

Myersville Citizens for a Rural Community on Facebook