About 150 people came to a meeting of the Buckingham County Planning Commission Monday to protest Dominion’s plan for a compressor station that would push natural gas through the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Sandy Hausman reports on why area residents are worried and what the company had to say.
More than fifty people signed up to speak against the compressor station. Among them, Barbara Gottlieb, a researchers at Physicians for Social Responsibility.
“Compressor stations leak. Pipelines also leak," she said. "There’s also something called blowdowns, when the material that’s in the pipeline or in the compressor station gets vented out to the atmosphere, and sometimes this is done on purpose as part of routine maintenance.”
After the hearing, Dominion spokesman Aaron Ruby assured us that pollution would not be a problem.
“We are going to have to receive air quality permits from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality," he explained. "We’re going to have to demonstrate that our emissions will fall below the regulatory limits for air emissions, and those limits are designed to protect human health and the environment.”
Gottlieb worried about the risk of explosions and fires:
“Where we have seen compressor stations have these accidents with fires, they’ll burn out of control for hours, the siding on houses a quarter of a miles away melting," she says. "If there is a fire, if there’s an explosion, are our first responders prepared? Do our hospitals have the capacity? What if there has to be an evacuation as there has been around a compressor station in Texas?”
But, again, Ruby was ready with answers.
“If you compare the statistics of transporting natural gas through underground pipelines versus transporting say propane on our highways or oil on our railroads, it’s not even close. Natural gas pipelines are by far the safest form of energy transportation in our country, and as technology improves, the safety only continues to improve.”
Between 2000 and 2009, Virginia had 38 significant pipeline accidents in which people were seriously injured or in two cases killed, with about $51 million in property damage. To avoid such incidents, Dominion says it uses high tech sensors and x-ray technology to monitor its pipelines 24/7. Spokesman Aaron Ruby argues problems are rare when you consider Virginia has 2,200 miles of pipeline.
“There are actually four large diameter natural gas pipelines that have operated safely through Buckingham County for many decades. We employ multiple overlapping layers of protection to ensure public safety. It starts with the design of the project. We use half an inch to almost one inch steel pipe, and then we coat that in a heavy layer of epoxy coating, and both of those designs provide an inherent layer of defense against corrosion, and because they’re underground and because they have such a minimal impact on the environment and the surrounding community, they go virtually unnoticed.”
But residents of a small, historic African-American neighborhood nearby and members of a spiritual community called Yogaville fear they will notice the noise made by four large turbines used to push gas through the pipeline. Chad Oba, with Friends of Buckingham, says this project could damage quality of life.
“Just really changing an agricultural zone that was a quiet, peaceful rural area to a heavy industrial place to live.”
Dominion says it will spend big bucks on sound insulation and noise canceling technology to assure the neighbors are not disturbed.
“We have to meet very stringent federal requirements for the noise levels that could be perceptible from the nearest homes or businesses or schools that are in the area. We have to be below 55 decibels, which is essential the ambient noise level in any outdoor area.”
Kirk Bowers, with Virginia’s Sierra Club, argued the pipeline and compressor are not needed to transport natural gas from the fracking fields of West Virginia to Virginia and North Carolina.
“Pipelines are being overbuilt out of the Marcellus shale fields, and overbuilding puts rate payers at risk of paying for excess capacity, and landowners at risk of sacrificing property to unnecessary projects.”
Dominion’s Aaron Ruby disagreed, claiming the Atlantic Coast pipeline would help to insure reliable, low-cost electricity for the Commonwealth.
And, finally, opponents complained that Dominion would reap big profits from the pipeline while communities would get only risk and disruption. Ruby said Buckingham County could expect about $9 million in property taxes during the pipeline’s first eight years of operation.
Because of the large turnout, Buckingham County’s planning commission decided to extend its public hearing – inviting further comment on October 17th.