Neighbors critical of Chapin facility

Last updated: April 10. 2014 11:10PM - 4360 Views
By Jon O’Connell joconnell@civitasmedia.com

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When Charlee Trantino moved into her rural Wyoming County home, she was looking for a way to live simply, to grow her own food and enjoy a self-sustaining life.

“And that is why I came here, and that is why I stayed here,” Trantino said.

Trantino lives next to the Chapin Dehydration Station, a natural gas processing plant that has been visited by emergency workers on eight different occasions since it went online in 2012.

Trantino, a writer who works from her home, said that after the gas was turned on at the station, the environment quickly changed.

“When this was built, suddenly there was no peace and quiet, there was no clean air and the constant threat of something catastrophic happening. It completely changed my way of life,” Trantino said. “It ruined it.”

The repeated incidents, and concerns from constituents prompted state Rep. Karen Boback, R-Harveys Lake, to petition the state Department of Environmental Protection to look into troubled plant.

In all incidents — which have included a roaring early-morning gas release in 2012, steam releases and several quieter malfunctions that led to reported foul smells and odd-colored smoke — DEP Bureau of Air Quality investigators found nothing harmful in the air, and the 20-plus homes in the immediate neighborhood were not evacuated.

The state agency’s regional office is conducting its own investigations into air-quality issues, regional spokeswoman Colleen Connolly said.

“The DEP is well aware of the incidents out at Chapin. We are doing our best from an air-quality standpoint to make sure Chapin is following regulations set forth in their permit,” Connolly said.

Connolly spoke with Boback on the phone Thursday afternoon, but had not seen the representative’s letter and could not comment on its content.

DEP responsibility

It’s up to DEP to determine if the plant released toxins into the environment in violation of its permit requirements, Connolly said. It’s up to Regency Energy Partners LP, the Texas-based firm that bought the station as well as all other assets previously owned by PVR Partners last month, to explain to residents why the equipment continues to malfunction, Connolly said.

Regency spokeswoman Vicki Granado said the company, as is its standard, is keeping an open conversation with state and federal agencies.

“Our Chapin Dehydration Station, which is part of a shared facility with other operators, has been operating within the required parameters and continues to do so. The safety of the community, the environment and our employees is our top priority,” Granado said.

Granado said the most recent incident — a natural gas odorant leak Tuesday night — came from mercaptan tanks owned by the Williams Transco pipeline that are stored on Regency’s site.

Mercaptan is added to natural gas, which is odorless on its own, to give the gas a distinctive, sulfur-like scent. Regency does not use mercaptan at the Chapin site, Regency spokeswoman Vicki Granado said in the email.

An attempt to reach a Williams spokesman was unsuccessful.

Primarily, Chapin strips moisture out of natural gas. It uses tri-ethylene glycol, a chemical that absorbs water from the gas as it passes through a series of tanks.

Defunct law to blame

The Chapin station was built under zoning provisions set by Act 13 of 2012, Pennsylvania’s updated Oil and Gas Law. The law had established setback requirements for natural wells and plants that aid in transporting the gas, but it established sweeping zoning rules to give operators more flexibility in choosing their locations.

That portion of the law was struck down by a state Supreme Court majority decision in December. Statewide zoning violated the state Constitution, Chief Justice Ronald Castille wrote.

Boback had voted in favor of Act 13 in 2012, but said in an email Thursday, that before the law, there was little regulation on the industry.

“Act 13 provided more protection regarding standards, setbacks and other safeguards to ensure industry accountability, including new regulations for the safe transport of waste water from drilling sites,” Boback said. “This was the only option on the table to hold the industry accountable and to ensure those important safeguards were put in place.”

Boback said after the first incidents were reported in 2012, she was quick to organize community meetings to find the root of the problem. Ultimately, she wants to keep operators accountable, she said.

“This is an issue that I have long been concerned about,” Boback said.

Regular nuisance

The Chapin station sits about 100 feet north of the Luzerne/Wyoming county border just off state Route 309.

Ten people from Luzerne County and 10 from Wyoming County jointly filed suit in June against PVR claiming the station creates incessant noise and subtle vibrations; affects them physically with headaches, rashes and nosebleeds; prevents them from enjoying their property; and shrinks property values.

“The plant has never functioned right from the time they started,” Charlee Trantino said.

Trantino is one of the 20 plaintiffs in the suit, and claims the consistent pulsing is starting to push out the old nails holding in the clapboard siding. The suit, which was filed last June, seeks damages in excess of $75,000 for each plaintiff.

Even if they want to get out, some homeowners have said that few buyers are eager to move so close to the plant, Trantino included.

“I love this house. I put my heart and soul into it,” Trantino said. “I’d hate to leave it. But now I can’t sell it, so I’m stuck here.”

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