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Midnight Pennsylvania Explosion Rocks Bedford County; Residents Evacuated When Compressor Station Explodes

November 8, 2011

Compressor stations are scary.  They emit benzene, toluene, formaldehyde, and other toxic chemicals at an alarming rate. They emit volatile organic chemicals and fine particulate matter which creates ground-level ozone, harming human health and animal health. They’ve made people in Pennsylvania, like Pam Judy, sick. They are unregulated because they are treated as individual sources of pollution rather than aggregate sources of pollution.

They also explode. Of all the dangers from Marcellus Shale gas drilling, this was one problem that wasn’t even on the radar until last Thursday in the wee small hours of the morning in Bedford County, when the compressor station there exploded and 150 local residents were evacuated. While terrifying incidents such as this don’t even make it into the major newspapers, one reporter for Aol Energy is doing his job; read Jon Hurdle’s report here. Hurdle reports,

A natural gas compressor station in southern Pennsylvania exploded overnight Thursday, prompting the evacuation of about 150 people and raising concerns about safety amid the shale-gas boom that is spreading throughout the state….

Working with local fire and emergency services, company officials shut down the station and a nearby underground gas-storage facility and the fire was extinguished, Trahan said.

Wait… did he say, “underground gas-storage facility?”  Yes, he did.  Does Turkmenistan come to mind for you at this moment? It does for me, and here’s why:

In Turkmentistan a drilling rig fell into an underground cavern. In order to prevent all the gas from escaping it was set on fire. Thirty-five years later it is still burning.

So reads the caption for a video on Engineering.com titled “Witness Darvaza: The Burning Gates.”  With all this natural gas burning everywhere, through flaring, fires and explosions, we are adding enormously to global scorching as well as making those who live near shale gas drilling operations profoundly unsafe.  If that huge underground gas storage facility in Bedford County were to go up in flames there would be, quite simply, no way to stop it from burning. Emergency responders know that there is literally no way to put a natural gas fire out.

Hurdle’s Aol Energy report on the exploding compressor station explains that PA DEP is unconcerned about the incident but that the federal Department of Transportation’s pipeline safety unit will investigate.  Local residents were “a little concerned,” he reports:

Melissa Singleton, secretary for Mann Township where the explosion occurred, described the incident as “loud and bright” when she and other officials went to the scene at about 1 a.m.

Local residents have been comfortable with the local gas industry but are now less so because of the explosion, she said. “They were a little concerned,” she said.

More than a little concerned: arsenic, toluene in drinking water

While it’s fantastic that this reporter is doing his job, I witnessed a different aspect of residents’ “comfort” with gas drilling.  In fact, I attended a large public meeting in Clearville, Bedford County, about gas drilling in April 2010, attended by about 60 local people.  At that meeting, farmers told me their concerns about dead animals, toluene in their drinking water, and 23 “blowoffs” they had already experienced from the gas processing facilities associated with the underground storage of vast amounts of surplus gas in the area. One recent “blowoff” had spewed a sticky mystery liquid on ponds, gardens and children’s toys, so the town appointed a volunteer “Emergency Coordinator” with no real power to address water or air contamination issues.

In other words, 19 months ago these Bedford County residents were already beyond concerned.  Despite the “story” the natural gas industry tells in commercials about how well-loved the industry is in rural Pennsylvania, everyone I encountered there signed a petition for a statewide moratorium on gas drilling in Pennsylvania.  You can read more about Clearville, Bedford County, in “Shale Shame,” published in the Weekly Press on April 28th, 2010. An excerpt:

 Under the surface of Clearville lie many acres of underground storage areas for natural gas, and natural gas processing facilities dot the surface.

“My son’s farm lost some goats and some calves; my son is disgusted. It ruined the farm; it smells like rotten eggs. Drillers hit the vein of the spring, so after they started drilling we got more water but it wasn’t good water, it was rotten,” Betty Clark explained in a private interview. “It has arsenic in it, but they told us it’s safe.”

As she spoke, on Saturday evening, April 17th, other families from the Clearville area, between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, slowly filled a meeting room. About 57 people gathered to share concerns about water and air pollution from natural gas storage, drilling, and processing in their region. Julie Kuhne, the town’s new Emergency Management coordinator, spoke first, describing the oily yellow substance which covered her children’s toys, the hammock, ground, house siding, cars, grape arbor, pond, and vegetable garden of her home after a blowout. “The siren sounded for 20 to 30 minutes after the blowoff, but the next day the DEP didn’t know anything about it. I was terrified,” Julie commented.

Residents say the company, Spectra Energy, working in the area, has had emergency shutdowns or blowouts 23 more times since the incident described by Kuhne, and counting. “The company came after a few days and compensated us for our vegetables, replaced the trampoline, and washed the house, but I’m concerned about air quality and water contamination. I’m trying to get DEP to do a post-test. No one [at DEP] could tell me who is regulating the air, and my water test came back contaminated with toluene. So did my neighbors,” Kuhne concluded.

As part of his reporting on last week’s compressor station explosion in Bedford County, Jon Hurdle linked to another story he wrote for Aol Energy, “Ban on natural gas fracking spread.”  With impacts like this tearing people’s lives apart, it’s no wonder.  Local, state, watershed, and regional bans on gas fracking appear to be the only way to protect our people.

7 Comments
  1. November 25, 2011 3:04 pm

    The more I research these gas compressor stations the more dangerous I relize they are. They are proposing to build a compressor station in Minisink, New York. We ar fighting like hell to keep Nisource (Millennium Pipeline) from constructing a gas compressor station which would be placed in a residential area where 145 homes surround the perimeter within a half mile. Many of the people who live here are NYC employees such as police and fire fighters. Many of them were 911 first responders, some are now out on disability from lung damage from that fatal day. They were told the air was safe then. What assurances do we have about the safety of this Minisink compressor station? What about our home values? There is a 911 widow who just built a home on this road. Ten years ago she lost her FDNY husband now she will face losing her home. The gas company can care less and the farmers selling the land have absolutely no sympathy they only care about the almight dollar. Many of our politicians are ignoring us and are willing to risk public health and safety for what they believe will bring jobs to the state. We have discovered that the MInisink Compressor station will bring only one job. What a joke. Somebody help us.

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