MONROE TWP. – A deafening roar shrieking from a natural gas transport facility startled neighbors from their beds during a gas release early Friday morning.
Emergency crews were dispatched at about 3 a.m. Friday to the natural gas dehydration station operated by PVR Partners, of Radnor, off Old Highway Road in Wyoming County, just over the Luzerne County line, for a reported gas blow-off.
It was the second time crews were called to the station to investigate loud noises since it went online in late September; and, according to witnesses, the din lasted longer and sounded louder this time.
Kunkle Fire Chief Jack Dodson said that according to PVR, a pilot malfunctioned on a pressure relief valve on the dehydration station, which removes moisture from gas in a gathering pipeline entering the station before it is pumped into the Transco interstate pipeline nearby in Dallas Township.
The broken pilot allowed moisture to enter the relief valve which then froze, causing it to open and vent, or blow off, natural gas, Dodson said. A roar like a freight train emanated from the station and a methane cloud rising 50 feet high poured from the open valve like a steam pipe that was broken until crews from PVR could close the valve, Dodson said.
Kunkle fire crews were dispatched to the dehydration station at 2:29 a.m. and arrived eight minutes later. They did not enter the station but waited for crews from PVR to arrive, Dodson said. According to Dodson the emergency plan for the station dictates fire crews should enter first only if lives are in danger and should otherwise await and assist gas company crews.
PVR's responders arrived at 3:25 a.m. and stopped the blow-off by 3:32 a.m.; the station was up and running again by the time the fire department left, Dodson said.
State Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Colleen Connolly said the department was not called to the scene Friday but will request PVR submit an incident report for review.
Dodson said gas flowing to the station was cut off automatically – the blow-off was caused by gas remaining in the line – and the incident never posed an immediate threat to neighbors, though he added that he understands their concern.
The incident marked the second time a loud noise emanated from the station since it opened in late September. On Sept. 29, a roar sounded for about 4 minutes after a malfunction triggered a station shutdown. PVR responded and repaired the malfunction but emergency crews were not called.
Neighbor Liz Ide, who lives in one of the nearest houses to the station along Route 309, said some in the neighborhood are upset about continued problems at the station.
This time people are really, really upset, including us, Ide said. We're stuck. We can't sell our house; who's going to want to buy it? We can't move away. All we know is we're very, very upset, along with everybody else.
She described panic as she and her husband waited 10 minutes for the noise to stop then considered evacuating.
We don't know what's going on; we don't know what this stuff is that's flying out of here, she said, describing the scene. You open the door and you can't even hear outside, that's how loud it is. Your first impression of it is it sounds like a jet engine, like you were standing at the airport when the jet takes off.
Roger Samuels, who lives about one-eighth of a mile from the station on Old Turnpike Road, said the noise also rattled livestock and pets in the area
I know a man down the street who has a couple dozen sheep; they were running all over the place, he said. The people who live across the way had to calm their horses at 3 in the morning. Our dogs were barking continuously.
Dodson said emergency workers will notify neighbors of imminent danger at the station, but said the station will take additional steps to keep residents up to date in the event of future incidents.
Any time fire crews are called to the site a firefighter will be assigned to the fire station to answer calls from residents, he said. The Kunkle Fire Department can be reached at 675-3334.
He also encouraged residents to contact 911. During the September shutdown Dodson said his department was not notified for some four hours later; this time neighbors called 911 and the department responded within minutes.
While emergency response may have been swift, Wyoming County Emergency Management Director Gene Dziak said he was not immediately notified of the incident by emergency dispatchers or the fire department, which he characterized as a failure to follow response protocol.
Because a gas leak of that magnitude qualifies as a hazardous materials release, Dziak said the county emergency manager should have been notified immediately under state law.
We were not notified of anything throughout the night, Dziak said. We didn't learn anything about this since residents called us early this morning. Procedures weren't followed and we need to work through that system.
Dziak said he spoke with Dodson Friday afternoon and he plans to meet with local emergency responders and PVR officials to review emergency response procedures.
It's not something that any of us wanted to have happen, he said. But it did, and now we need to go back and fix what's broken.
Dziak said the incident, which occurred near the Luzerne County line, was dispatched by Luzerne County 911. Luzerne County EMA Director Stephen Bekanich said he was not notified about the incident Friday.
PVR Director of Investor Relations Stephen R. Milbourne did not return a call and email seeking comment Friday.
Following the September shutdown, Milbourne said sound dampening equipment would be added to the station to prevent neighbors from being disturbed by loud noises. Ide and Samuels said they have not seen that equipment and the noise was just as loud, if not louder, this time.
The September shutdown also prompted opponents of local natural gas drilling to protest outside the station Oct. 15.
Scott Cannon, a member of the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition, said the facility raised red flags since it was proposed by Chief Gathering at a public hearing in Monroe Township.
PVR acquired the station with some of Chief's other Marcellus Shale assets earlier this year.
I spoke to several residents after the first accident, and no one wanted to come forward, Cannon said. Now people are getting really scared and want to do something about it.