Kasey Duran recalled how officials from the state Department of Environmental Protection who recently visited her home in Smith Township were astonished at the amount of shale gas infrastructure their own agency had approved for companies to build nearby.
“They were standing around totally blank-faced, (they) couldn’t believe that they approved so many things,” she said.
“They don’t know, either, what they’re really approving, besides what they can see on a map,” she added. “But seeing it up close is something totally different.”
Duran and Mike Tokarski, who lives nearby on Point Pleasant Road, were among those who were at a township meeting on Tuesday who were asking their elected supervisors to use their authority to restrict more infrastructure like the two sprawling complexes of shale gas refineries – one owned by Energy Transfer Partners, the other by MarkWest Energy – that started running on former farmland last year.
People from that site and a compressor station on Atlasburg Road that’s owned by MarkWest and known as 3 Brothers gave voice to complaints about flaring, noise and vibrations – nuisances they say can be sometimes sensed for at least two miles from those facilities.
MarkWest was bought in 2015 by Marathon Petroleum Corp.’s subsidiary MPLX.
The company’s Harmon Creek complex is the newer of the two plants at neighboring sites on Point Pleasant. The other is Energy Transfer’s Revolution complex. Each company maintains a compressor station, too.
Among the problems that drew complaints from residents was flaring that woke them early two consecutive mornings in December around the time the facility came online.
“The dishes were rattling in my house,” Tokarski said.
“No fire trucks came, nothing came,” he later added. “To see what was wrong – nobody. Because we stayed up and made sure.”
Flaring involves burning off gas as a safety measure to reduce pressure in an operator’s equipment.
Marathon spokesman Jamal Kheiry said in an email that doing so “tends to be necessary when there are operational changes, which was the case in December as we started plant operations. Our objective is to flare only when absolutely necessary.”
Among those at the meeting was Lisa Graves-Marcucci, a community organizer with the advocacy group Environmental Integrity Project.
Graves-Marcucci asked supervisors to start rewriting their zoning ordinance to allow the compressor stations and cryogenic plants used to process the natural gas from the Utica and Marcellus shale plays only in portions of the township that are zoned for industrial land use.
“It just doesn’t make sense, if you have all of these ongoing problems, to keep letting the problems grow in size,” Graves-Marcucci said. “They should be told that certain sizes of things and certain operations of things really should be isolated to the industrial zone to be fair to everyone.”
She cited multiple state Supreme Court rulings that affirm local authority to place restrictions on oil and gas development.
Graves-Marcucci also pointed to recent news, first broken by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, that the state attorney general’s office was using a grand jury to investigate the oil and gas industry in the region. She called the news a “wake-up call for all of us” that reinforces the need for local oversight.
Supervisors said they’d review the ordinance, which was last updated at least several years ago.
Chairman Tom Schilinski said the township previously updated its ordinances with the help of solicitor Gary Sweat.
“We went through the right procedure, to go in and use the (agricultural zone),” he said. “I don’t think we need a vote on that. I think we can look at it, and we have changed our zoning ordinance quite a few times.”
Attorney Michael Cruny, who’s part of Sweat’s firm, said the township can’t overstep DEP’s authority in regulating particular facilities. But it can dictate where they can be built and place other parameters on them that wouldn’t change existing sites but could affect future ones.
“In 2010, 2011, when they first came in areas, no one knew what to expect,” Cruny said. “Just like now, we have things that were set, conditions, things like that. You may decide you want to increase the buffers, or you want to add additional setbacks, or additional sound things.”
Graves-Marcucci also asked supervisors to vote to have officials visit the the Revolution plant to see what’s occurring there. Energy Transfer received DEP approval in August to expand its capacity there, but hasn’t received the required township approval to do so.
“People are seeing activity on the adjacent parcel that could be nothing at all,” Graves-Marcucci said. “But we’re wondering, is it them thinking that they have state approval, and they’re beginning the construction of something that they don’t have local approval for?” Graves-Marcucci said.
Schilinski said he didn’t consider a vote necessary, but said officials would look into the matter.
“We’ve got engineers,” Schilinski said. “We’ll find out what they’re doing.”
Energy Transfer said in an email it isn’t doing construction work at the site.
“We are performing some storm water management work, but nothing beyond that,” the company said.