Local residents and an area school district are voicing concerns about air quality from chemicals that could be emitted from a compressor station associated with the proposed Northeast Energy Direct natural gas pipeline. The town of New Ipswich is slated to be home to a 41,000-horsepower compressor station for the pipeline, which would be the largest compressor station on the East Coast. Compressor stations help transport natural gas and keep it properly pressurized.
The Kinder Morgan company, through its subsidiary Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. LLC, is proposing the pipeline to run from Pennsylvania to New York, including a section through southern New Hampshire and a number of local towns.
Reports by a Pennsylvania environmental health project and an analysis by a Boston-based pediatrician say that people living near natural gas pipeline infrastructure, including compressor stations, could be at increased risk of health problems.
Groups that have studied the possible health effects compressor stations can have on humans say that public health needs to take more of a priority in the development of natural gas infrastructure. At the same time, they say, more studies need to be done about the potential link between a person’s health and exposure to natural gas infrastructure.
The findings of those recent studies, seeking to link air quality to health problems that people living near compressor stations are experiencing, are among the latest tools New Hampshire pipeline opponents are using to make their case about why the project shouldn’t go forward.
They are also seeking to share the footage of a recent presentation given by pediatrician Dr. Curtis L. Nordgaard analyzing the health risk of a compressor station in New Ipswich. Nordgaard said preliminary reports suggest compressor stations can negatively affect human health.
Tennessee Gas Pipeline says it’s complying with all the federal, state and local regulations and standards on air quality.
ConVal board speaks out
People, especially children, living near natural gas pipeline infrastructure may be at increased risks of cancer, nosebleeds, asthma, throat irritation, severe headaches, heart problems and other conditions, according to a March study by the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project and sources cited in the journal New Solutions. The Pennsylvania project also concluded that babies are at risk for being born prematurely or with low birth weights, which can negatively affect future health.
The nonprofit environmental health project was established in 2011 to help people living in Washington County, Penn., who believed natural gas drilling activities were linked to declines in their health.
A February report from the environmental health project also questions the emissions levels allowed by state and federal agencies for natural gas facilities, and the effectiveness of the equipment in place to manage those emissions.
“Compressor construction and operational phases are generally projected to produce emissions below (EPA-established standards),” according to the report. “The problem posed by estimating tons of contaminants emitted per year is that over the course of a year emissions will vary, often greatly.”
The New Ipswich compressor station is proposed to be about a quarter of a mile from Temple Elementary School.
This proximity caused the ConVal Regional School Board to submit a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in September, taking a stance against the project. The school district covers Antrim, Bennington, Dublin, Francestown, Greenfield, Hancock, Peterborough, Sharon and Temple.
The board said emissions from the compressor station could affect the health of students and staff, both inside and outside the school building. Board members also cited a lack of means to evacuate the school in a timely way, and a lack of local police, fire and ambulance resources if there were an emergency at the station.
Tennessee Gas Pipeline officials filed the project’s application last month with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has the power to approve or reject the pipeline. Company officials have asked the commission to approve the project by the fourth quarter of 2016.
Compliance and complaints
Tennessee Gas Pipeline (TGP) officials said in a statement Friday that before building and operating the New Ipswich compressor station, they’ll be required to have an air quality permit from the N.H. Department of Environmental Services. The same is true for building compressor stations in other states, according to the statement.
“During the permitting process, TGP must show that proposed facilities will comply with all applicable federal, state and local air pollution regulations and standards. TGP must also demonstrate to the agency satisfaction that such facilities won’t cause an adverse impact to human health or the environment,” the statement said.
In addition, company officials must demonstrate the proposed compressor station will not adversely affect air quality downwind of the facility, according to the statement.
However, some levels of toxic chemicals are expected to be emitted.
According to the Northeast Energy Direct project’s FERC filing, those emissions per year are expected to be 49.62 tons of nitrogen dioxide, 39.72 tons of carbon dioxide, 9.23 tons of particulate matter, 8.53 tons of volatile organic compounds, 4.66 tons of sulfur dioxide and 0.64 tons of formaldehyde. All are within acceptable limits for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to issue a permit, according to the filing.
On Dec. 2, Nordgaard, the Boston pediatrician, presented some of his research on compressor stations to Gov. Maggie Hassan during a meeting with the N.H. Municipal Pipeline Coalition.
The coalition is a group of 15 southern New Hampshire towns either along or near the pipeline’s proposed path that have come together to fight the project. Members are Amherst, Brookline, Fitzwilliam, Greenville, Litchfield, Mason, Merrimack, Milford, New Ipswich, Pelham, Richmond, Rindge, Temple, Troy and Winchester.
Nordgaard told the group and the governor that it could cost a significant amount of money to treat people with health problems stemming from at least three of the toxic chemicals expected to be emitted from the compressor station — nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter.
He met last week with members of the public at Temple Elementary School.
“(W)e believe (Nordgaard’s) report, and the dramatic drop in Kinder Morgan’s financial stability in recent months, should provide serious concern to any party involved in the review process as they consider the viability of this pipeline and the damage it would do to our natural environment and the people who live here,” Sam Matthews, a member of the New Ipswich Pipeline Resistance, said Thursday in an email.
The pipeline awareness group proposes having testing done not only of New Ipswich’s compressor station site, but all the new compressor stations planned for the pipeline, he said.
“Collated data from these sites will provide irrefutable evidence of the serious health effects caused by fracked gas infrastructure, and hopefully put an end to these projects that are pushed through against the wishes of the people and cause sickness and harm to local people for large company profits,” he said.
Rindge Selectmen Chairman Robert A. Hamilton said concerns about health effects are another reason to object to the pipeline.
He said he’d possibly like to have independent air quality testing of the town done before and after the pipeline is built, paid for by Kinder Morgan.
John Kieley, a member of the Temple Ad Hoc Pipeline Advisory Committee, said Thursday that the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline is “the largest public health threat since the Seabrook Nuclear Power Station,” and the New Ipswich compressor station would be the “largest and most lethal” ever built in the Northeast.
“For the town of Temple, it’s not just a matter of monitoring the pollutants emitted by this compressor station, and then like other communities across the country, going to court to try to shut down the operation with evidence that the company is violating its permit,” he said.
“This is about defeating the project before we get to the approval process,” he said. “We’re fighting this on the basis that this is absolutely wrong for New Hampshire.”
Meghan Foley can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1436, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @MFoleyKS.