by Nastassja Noell | 10.23.2009
(Binghamton, NY): On Tuesday, residents near the Nancy Stewart Natural Gas Compressor station in Mt. Pleasant Township, PA reported an incident involving natural gas occurring at around 1:15pm. Raw natural gas was escaping from a pipeline with such force that it caused nearby homes to shake. The high pressure gas was not being burned and was released for over an hour, causing a loud sustained noise to be heard throughout the area. “It sounded like a rocket taking off,” said Martin O’Lear, who lives about a quarter mile from the compressor station.
“My eyes started to burn, and then I started to cough which lasted through the afternoon and night” said Mr O’Lear, who lives uphill from the compressor station. “I’ve lived here for 34 years and never before had my eyes start to burn when I stepped outside.”
MarkWest Liberty and Resources LLC, could not be reached for comment.
The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) stated that the incident was normal operating procedure. “At this point what we understand is that they were conducting some maintenance and repair on the pipeline near to the station,” Helen Humphreys, the community relations coordinator for the DEP, told Indymedia on Wednesday afternoon. “We are continuing to investigate to see if there is more to the story.”
The DEP reported that they are currently performing air tests in the areas surrounding the MarkWest compressor station; air tests were stated to have been performed the day after the incident occurred. Test results may be available next week.
Raw natural gas may include the known carcinogen benzene. Residents stated that the fumes were strong, similar to kerosene oil, but did not smell like sulfur – which would indicate the presence of hydrogen sulfide in the gas. Washington Hospital and the local veterinarian clinic reported that no patients have exhibited symptoms of hydrogen sulfide poisoning as of Wednesday afternoon.
CNG compressor stations use engines to push the gas down the pipeline and are a major component of the modern natural gas infrastructure. Many CNG compressor stations also refine the natural gas coming out of the well head by removing the water and other contaminants. Incidents involving compressor stations are common in natural gas drilling areas.
“We [in Louisiana and Texas] frequently have compressor stations that have either had an explosion or an over-pressurization” said Wilma Subra, a chemist who founded the Oil and Gas Accountability Project. On Tuesday, Dr. Subra spoke at length about air pollution associated with CNG facilities on WHRW Binghamton’s radio show “The Point.”
On August 23 in Clearville, PA, a compressor station operated by Spectra had an emergency shutdown which caused surrounding fields to be covered with an oily substance as large amounts of natural gas were vented into the atmosphere.
MarkWest owns and operates at least 9 compressor stations in Washington County, there are at least two MarkWest compressors stations in Mt. Pleasant.
If residents smell an egg sulfur smell near a gas pipeline or gas well, this may be an indication of hydrogen sulfide, a known toxin. Please call your local Emergency Management Agency (EMA).