Pa. Towns Contend With Gas Pipeline Proposals

Mon December 05, 2011 - National Edition
Janice Crompton

PITTSBURGH (AP) A number of municipalities in Washington County have spent the past few months crafting regulations for Marcellus Shale gas well drilling pads, compressor stations, processing plants and even employee work trailers. But pipelines? Not so much.

Two of those municipalities in the northern portion of the county, Peters and Union, now find themselves scrambling to brace for proposed pipeline projects on their doorsteps.

“I don’t think we thought of it,’ said Peters Manager Michael Silvestri about why township officials failed to consider pipelines when council approved a gas well drilling ordinance in August.

Although several natural gas pipeline projects have traversed southern parts of the county, along with neighboring Greene County, for several years, the northern fringes have seen little activity.

Until now.

“We discussed it and we’re working on a couple of ordinances to set standards for this activity,’ said Union supervisor Larry Spahr, who found the issue placed squarely in his lap during a supervisor’s meeting Dec. 1.

He and other officials from Peters and Union are now considering new ordinances governing pipeline siting and construction because of a recent proposal by a company called M3 Midstream, also referred to by its brand name of “Momentum,’ to construct a local gas gathering line as part of its “Appalachia Gathering System.’

The AGS is being built to link so-called “gathering lines,’ 12-in. (30.5 cm) diameter pipes, which transport natural gas between well heads, along 150 mi. (241 km) from northern West Virginia through Greene and Washington counties.

Although all of the necessary easements have been purchased in West Virginia, several are still needed in Pennsylvania.

The gathering lines would connect with 24-in. (61 cm) interstate pipelines.

During a similar meeting Dec. 1 in Peters, council members heard a report from Silvestri, detailing several easement agreements between property owners and Momentum. Silvestri said the Houston, Texas-based company has contacted the township about burying the pipeline beneath several township roads.

Because the company is not a public utility, it can’t encroach on public property without permission, Spahr said. Both townships plan to negotiate with the company about easement rights.

No member of the public spoke out against the project during the township meetings, and a Marcellus Shale citizens group from Peters also declined to comment.

The company has purchased 50-ft. (15.2 m)-wide easements from private property owners along a 1.2-mi. (1.9 km) route from Venetia Road near Railroad Street to McClelland Road, including through the Finleyville Cemetery in Peters.

Bob McClure, Finleyville Cemetery president, said the pipeline will not disturb any graves in the 26-acre (10.5 ha) property.

“It’s not even close to an existing grave,” he said of the proposed route, set to originate at Trax Farms in Union and travel around the outer rim of the cemetery property.

The line would continue into Nottingham, where Supervisor Doug King said he doesn’t expect having to develop a new ordinance. Gas transmission lines already are located throughout the township dating to the 1960s, he said.

The township requires pipeline companies to provide a route map and to apply for street crossing permits when necessary, he said.

If heavy machinery will be hauled over township roads, companies would also be required to post a bond for road improvements.

Company spokesman George Francisco said Momentum has applied for a permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection to build the Pennsylvania portion of the AGS.

“We are in that process today,” he said. “Our permitting process in Pennsylvania is under way.”

The DEP oversees such gathering lines, while the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission handles permits for larger interstate pipelines.

Francisco said pipeline construction is expected to begin around the new year and should take about nine months, he said.

Francisco said Momentum has been on good terms with local officials and hopes that will continue.

“The good neighbor thing is something we pride ourselves on,” Francisco said. “We want to maintain good relationships.”