Neighbors take a stand on noise, odor of gas drilling

Sunday, March 14, 2010

By Don Hopey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Mount Pleasant residents Dencil Backus, JoAnne Wagner and Bill Forrest stand near two “condensate” tanks, which are part of a compressor station complex in the village of Hickory , in Mount Pleasant , Washington County.

Just outside a fence enclosing a field on Debbie Hanes’ farm near Hickory in Washington County sits a noisy, smelly, two-story natural gas compressor station, running 24/7 and lit up at night like a minor league baseball park.

The rumbling noise of the four compressors in what’s known as the Fulton Station is audible a little more than 700 feet away at Ms. Hanes’ home in Mount Pleasant and to other residents of Washington Road up to a half-mile away.

MarkWest Energy Partners built the boxy, steel-clad building in 2008 for $4.4 million to collect gas from then-burgeoning Marcellus shale drilling and push it through a growing pipeline system to a processing plant eight miles to the southeast in Houston .

The station, which was expanded from two to four compressors last year without public notification, emits an industrial chemical odor into the bucolic countryside. At least once a day the operation produces a startling “belch” — a pressure release from valves located less than 50 feet from Ms. Hanes’ property line that is loud enough to spook humans, as well as her donkeys and horses in adjacent fields.

“We have farmland all around our property and the compressor station creates a huge change to the character of this neighborhood,” said Ms. Hanes, a member of a Mount Pleasant citizens committee that seeks more local input into future drilling operations. The committee has proposed an amendment to the local zoning ordinance aimed at regulating some of the noise, lighting, odor and air pollution impact associated with Marcellus shale gas drilling facilities.

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