With the arrival of chilly nights in the Northeast, an annual debate begins over potential spikes in natural gas prices. It’s the season for operators to push pipeline expansion projects and to compare weather predictions with gas supply estimates.
Typically absent from the discussion are the impacts on residents who live near gas facilities—or in the case of gas storage, right on top of them. As Angel and Wayne Smith of Bedford County PA know all too well, this is a glaring and very troubling omission.
Since 2008, the Smiths and their neighbors have been dealing with the conversion of an old gas production field into a large gas storage area to accommodate the Marcellus Shale gas boom. That’s when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the Steckman Ridge project, which included the alteration and expansion of underground wells, miles of new pipeline, and a very large compressor station.
For the Smiths and their neighbors, the result has been major changes in health, the environment, and property rights. As detailed in the latest of Earthworks’ case studies associated with our recent report Blackout in the Gas Patch, the Smiths have been forced to live with pollution events, declining air and water quality, and the loss of livestock.
The current case study shows how the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) often gave operators, not residents, the benefit of the doubt when problems occurred. Documents that we reviewed indicate that despite recognition of health impacts by both the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Environmental Protection Agency and many complaints by the Smiths and their neighbors, DEP hasn’t taken action to rein in Steckman Ridge operations or hold the operator accountable for damage caused.
Back in 1973, EPA warned that underground gas storage fields could place groundwater at risk. A 2005 study confirmed this was likely happening at a storage field in another location in Pennsylvania. The compressor station associated with the Steckman Ridge storage field has become one of the top emitters of air pollutants in Bedford County. And for six years, the Smiths and their neighbors have been asking questions and seeking assistance.
Spectra Energy currently has its sights set on projects from Florida to Massachusetts. Yet neither state nor federal regulators have a handle on how to prevent problems with gas storage and delivery systems. They should figure that out before greenlighting new infrastructure—and further risking the health of residents who, just like the Smiths, will continue to bear the costs of growing natural gas production and consumption.