Smith Township municipal building

Several environmental groups claim MarkWest understated potential emissions when it applied for an air-quality permit the state granted last year for a shale gas compressor station in Smith Township.

An attorney for the groups – PennEnvironment, Earthworks and Environmental Integrity Project – makes that argument in an appeal filed Jan. 13 with the state Environmental Hearing Board. The filing challenges a permit the Department of Environmental Protection issued Dec. 2 for the Smith Compressor Station, which is located on Point Pleasant Road.

The new issuance was classified as a state-only minor source permit for the station. MarkWest – which is owned by Marathon Petroleum Corp.’s company MPLX – said it would seek a permit of that type as part of a $3.2 million consent agreement it reached with state and federal environmental regulators in 2018. The facility previously operated under state-issued general permit known as a “GP-5.”

In the appeal, which was filed Jan. 13, attorney Lisa Hallowell wrote DEP should not have approved the new permit as issued. She contends MarkWest allegedly miscalculated emissions from the compressor.

As part of the permit application, the company estimated of chemicals known as volatile organic compounds and other potential emissions from different aspects of its operations. Among those figures Hallowell singled out as warranting skepticism was the estimate of the VOCs that would be released during blowdowns.

“MarkWest based this potential to emit on an assumed 12 blowdowns per year for each of the facility’s ten engines,” Hallowell wrote. “As (environmental groups) raised in comments (on the application prior to approval), this estimate does not appear to represent the facility’s maximum capacity to emit from blowdowns, as MarkWest’s original application assumed three times as many blowdowns per engine, and other compressor stations have assumed many more blowdowns per engine per year. The Department therefore improperly adopted this calculation of the facility’s potential to emit.”

A Marathon spokesperson didn’t return a request for comment. DEP spokesperson Lauren Fraley said the agency doesn’t discuss pending litigation.

Hallowell also wrote the department didn’t implement adequate measures to enforce the emission limits that are ostensibly conditions of the permit.

She also wrote that some of the requirements for things like record-keeping and equipment that DEP placed on its approval match the consent decree, she alleged the agency had not fully ensured MarkWest and the permit were fully in compliance with that pact.

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