According to the Kinder Morgan/Tennessee Gas “Draft Environmental Report” filed in March 2015, three new compressor stations are planned in Massachusetts, including one in Berkshire County. While the report did not disclose specific locations, it did indicate the anticipated size of these facilities. The one slated for the Berkshire town of Windsor is designed to include two Titan 250 turbines and one Titan 130 turbine for a total of 80,000 horsepower. Another 80,000 horsepower station is planned for the town of Northfield in Franklin County. In Rensselear County, NY, the compressor is sized for 90,000 horsepower. These would be among the largest compressor stations in the entire country.
Now, Kinder Morgan has revealed precise locations for these compressor stations. According to a June 1 filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Windsor site is to comprise an estimated 10 acres and include three compressor units, compressor buildings, and ancillary facilities. The pipeline company plans to acquire 142 acres and has executed an option to purchase agreement. Aerial maps included in the filing indicate the compressor station is to be located along Peru Road near the south end of town. According to the map, a half dozen residential properties are within a half mile of the proposed compressor station.
“These compressor stations are very large industrial projects,” Ashfield resident Jim Cutler explained in a telephone interview. Cutler is a member of the Massachusetts Pipeline Awareness Network (MassPLAN) and has presented specifically on the topic of compressor stations at various pipeline forums. The facilities, he said, typically occupy 80 to 100 acres, and the turbines themselves (about 20 ft. in width and 40-50 ft. in length) are constantly burning gas. “These turbines are basically burning the gas that’s in the pipeline in order to compress the gas and keep it moving.”
According to the Energy Information Administration, compressor stations are designed to re-pressurize the gas flowing through the pipeline system, as pressure tends to decrease due to friction as gas travels through the pipes. These stations typically consist of scrubbers/filters, compressor units, cooling facilities and emergency shutdown systems, and are generally unmanned and controlled offsite through an automated Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition system.
As for the unusually large size of the NED pipeline compressor stations like the one planned for Windsor, Cutler said it indicates that much of this gas is destined for export. Local distribution companies have so far contracted for only 0.5 billion cubic feet/day of gas, yet the pipeline has a capacity to carry 2.2 billion cubic feet/day, and compression stations are already being sized for 80,000 and 90,000 horsepower.
“We’re looking at what they have contracted, and what they’re saying they need for compression right away, and there’s a bit of a disconnect,” Cutler explained. “They don’t need that much compression capacity now, and yet they’re saying they do. It underscores a shadow sale of gas, which we believe is the gas going up to Canada to export.”
Numerous Compressor Concerns
Beyond the export issue, there are a number of environmental, health and safety concerns related to the compressor stations, ranging from impacts during construction, to noise and light pollution, to toxins and greenhouse gas emissions.
“You’ve got a very large construction project on a large piece of land. Right there you’ve got environmental impact,” said Cutler.
“Then there’s the noise,” he added. “The turbines themselves are quite loud.” Per federal regulations, the noise level limit between these facilities and the nearest inhabited space is set at 55 decibels. “That regulation is exceeded routinely,” said Cutler.
Another component of compressor stations is the safety valves, which open on occasion to relieve pressure in the pipeline. When these valves open, the noise is akin to standing directly behind a 747 jet at full throttle, as Cutler explained. Since the valve openings are considered a “non-normal operation,” they are not subject to any noise regulation.
“If you talk to people who live near these compressor stations they will tell you that [the safety valves] go off routinely, not once a month per se, but several times a year for sure, on average,” he said.
A more constant noise concern is the extreme low frequency sound wave in the pipeline that comes from the gas being compressed. People who live near compressor stations and along the pipeline complain of these low frequency pulsations emanating from the underground pipe.
Light also attracts insects, and in some cases pulls them away from river areas where trout and other fish feed. “Having a compressor station with so much bright light is going to affect the food chain in the area where many of these coveted cold water rivers exist,” said Cutler.
Then there are the toxins and emissions associated with transporting and compressing fracked gas. The gas itself contains residuals of hundreds of chemicals used in the fracking process. When the gas gets burned and compressed, trace amounts of these chemicals get emitted. “These turbine engines are burning the gas and the chemicals that are in it,” said Cutler.
When the safety valves open they release a large volume of raw gas into the air, thus emitting methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than CO2.
Emissions also contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), toxic substances like benzene and hydrogen sulfide. According to a study of air concentration of VOCs near oil and gas production, published in the journal Environmental Health, high concentrations of formaldehyde, a suspected carcinogen, were found near fourteen compressor stations in three states.
Cutler mentioned a study that looked at health conditions of residents living near the Barto compressor station in Pennsylvania. Researchers found these people were living with various diseases and conditions attributed to VOCs coming directly from the compressor station.
“People living near these things are at great risk for contracting various diseases – asthma, nosebleeds, arthritis, immune disorders, neurological disorders – as a result of what’s coming out of the compressor stacks,” Cutler explained.
Another concern Cutler pointed out is what happens when the pipes get cleaned to remove corrosive material, a process called pigging. These pigging operations, which are typically located on compressor station sites, routinely cause spills of chemical-laced material that then has the potential to contaminate nearby aquifers and wells.
“As you look at each aspect of the compressor station, it represents a pretty severe impact on the local environment,” said Cutler.
He also pointed out that in public presentations and open houses, Kinder Morgan was misleading in describing what these compressor stations would look like, showing pictures of a much smaller 2,000 horsepower compressor in Southwick, MA. “This has to go down as the most egregious falsification of all of those presentations given by this company,” said Cutler. “It was an out and out lie.”
Windsor Residents Form Opposition Group
In response to their town being targeted for hosting a massive compressor station, concerned Windsor residents have formed an opposition group, Compressor and Pipeline Opposition in Windsor (CaPOW). The group has been meeting weekly since April and is currently working on outreach and action through door-to-door canvassing and letter writing.
“I have a huge concern that [Kinder Morgan] is proposing a compressor for our town. I was very worried about the pipeline, but the compressor is over the top,” Windsor resident Jan Bradley said during a recent CaPOW meeting. “It’s hugely polluting, they are very prone to accidents.”
“It’s going to destroy the rural character of this town,” added Cyndie White.
Fellow Windsor resident Robert Wood agreed that the town would be forever impacted. “My outrage is that these people are coming into our community, changing it forever, so they can make money,” he said. “It’s really that simple. The community really is not going to benefit from this.”
“Another thing that got us all [to form this group] is an awareness that many people might not support this compressor station and pipeline, but they think it’s a done deal,” explained Holly Higinbotham. “So we thought maybe we need to start changing that impression and help people understand that there are things they can do and there are ways to fight this.”
Windsor already passed a nonbinding resolution opposing the pipeline, but is looking into a legal strategy of banning the pipeline through a Board of Health ruling, as the town of Deerfield did last fall.
“In towns where the pipeline is crossing, one strategy is to get those towns to declare the pipeline a health risk and to pass a law banning the pipeline in the town, which will then require the Kinder Morgan company to sue the town,” explained Wood. “Windsor is working on that issue.”