Residents Angry Over Shale Gas Exports

There's a prevalent, often emotional, opposition to taking any gas produced from the Marcellus shale formation and selling it abroad.

WAYNESBURG, Pa. (AP) -- Natural gas pipeline companies have been Dorothy Ganiear's neighbor in Greene County for as long as she can remember.

Pipelines from two companies poke out from the ground in twisting interchanges just over a grassy hillside from her family's 100-acre farm, but noise or accidents never have been a problem, Ganiear said.

So when Virginia-based Dominion Resources Inc. offered her money this year to allow the company to run another pipeline under a corner of her Morgan Township property, Ganiear, 61, was happy to help. This is what we all have to live with in order to get the natural gas we need to heat our homes, she said.

What she does not want to live with is a pipeline that would help take gas to a port for export overseas.

"I want this gas to stay in America," she said. "I'm all for America first."

In towns across largely rural Greene County and elsewhere in south central Pennsylvania that are crucial hubs for transporting the nation's natural gas, most people express similar sentiment: They consider pipeline companies good neighbors, but that could change if they become mass exporters. There's a prevalent, often emotional, opposition to taking any gas produced from the Marcellus shale formation and selling it abroad.

"They've been a good friend," said Gregory L. Cook, supervisor in Guilford Township, near Chambersburg in Franklin County -- home to a key juncture on one of the new interstate pipeline projects. "But if their policy is to export this natural gas they've been working with, that's dead wrong. It's an absolute shame, and it's an atrocity.

"They said that this natural gas was to help America. Well, if that's not true, they deceived."

Greene County and Franklin County are just two of Pennsylvania's counties hosting the growing number of pipeline hubs that help connect gaslands to transmission lines largely serving the East Coast. Pipeline companies are adding more powerful compressor stations and bigger pipes to decades-old sites throughout the state.

Spectra Energy Corp. subsidiary Texas Eastern Transmission is building up two of its lines across southern Pennsylvania. Dominion and EQT have projects connecting West Virginia and Greene County, with Dominion's Appalachian Gateway Project leading all the way to the Oakford storage and compression center in Salem in Westmoreland County. National Fuel Gas Co. has a project across the northcentral part of the state.

Spectra spokeswoman Wendy Olson said the company has no plans to use its new projects to ship natural gas abroad and has made no application for export rights. Spectra shares transmission connections with Dominion.

Dominion spokesman Dan Donovan said the company expects its Cove Point, Md., terminal facility to become an import-export facility as early as 2015 -- if the Marcellus shale is developed, America has excess natural gas and its gas drillers demand it.

"We're not an exporter," Donovan said. "We don't anticipate calling up Spain and saying, 'Hey, do you need some gas? We'll send it out.' We'd just anticipate gas companies in the United States sending it out, and we'd be the processor."

These expansion projects occur as companies are trying to determine how to keep turning profits with a glut of gas from the Marcellus and other shale fields. Industry analysts say exporting could become one solution.

Nearly 14 percent of America's daily natural gas production could be sold overseas if all the other firms that have applied or publicly expressed interest in exporting are approved by the U.S. Department of Energy, the Tribune-Review reported in the first part of this investigation published on Sunday. The exact amount depends on demand, production and necessary approvals. But overseas prices for gas are nearly three times those in the United States.

Last month, the DOE approved the first American-produced gas exports overseas from the lower 48 states, allowing Cheniere Energy Inc. to export 2.2 billion cubic feet daily from a Louisiana port starting in 2015. Two other companies have requests pending. Officials from two more, including Dominion, have publicly said they are considering exporting, too.

"I wouldn't think very much (of that)," said Willa Cree, a retired warehouse worker who lives in Franklin Township in Greene County. "It's our gas, so why should we take it overseas? It would make me a little upset with the gas companies."

A placard in Cree's front window warns that she uses oxygen because of a lung condition. Yet she's not worried about an explosion, even though her Jefferson Road home is literally surrounded by rights of way held by Dominion, EQT and Spectra.

At least 11 major gas pipelines run underground around her property, according to a federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration's online map. Three new pipelines from Dominion's Appalachian Gateway Project would connect less than 500 yards away at Crayne Station, just over the border in Morgan, halfway to Ganiear's farmhouse.

Cree's is the only house on her portion of the street, and Dominion worked with the county to ensure its line will pass through only low-population areas, said Greg Leathers, Greene County's acting emergency management director. Leathers said gas companies in the area have demonstrated good safety practices and have been easy to work with, providing project information he requested.

Cook, the supervisor in Guilford, has a box of six binders that contain project information, including Spectra's plan for its cross-state pipeline. He has not studied the hundreds of pages, and instead township officials ask for specific information they need about construction plans and roads that might be affected. The company always complies, Cook said.

The transmission companies conduct annual meet-and-greet sessions in both Greene and Franklin counties to ensure town leaders and emergency officials know the hazards and the company's emergency contacts, emergency officials said. They held three training sessions for first responders within the past year about Marcellus wells and gas transmission pipelines, including one led by EQT, Leathers said.

"The gist of it is the same," Leathers said. "Not to minimize it, but once it's a fire where you've shut the source off, and the fire is just oxygen and the burning materials, at that point it's a fire (firefighters) are used to fighting."

Pipeline problems came under increasing scrutiny during the past year. In September, a 44-year-old gas transmission line ruptured in a crowded San Francisco suburb, killing eight people, injuring dozens and ruining 55 homes. Investigators blamed flawed welds on the pipe. A gas pipeline explosion in Allentown on Feb. 9 killed five people and destroyed a block of row houses.

Dominion owns another hub in Leidy in Clinton County, in northcentral Pennsylvania, that caught fire just three years ago. That facility is bigger, and the fire was an isolated flame from a rupture at one of four underground storage fields, Donovan said. The treetop-high flame burned for nearly two weeks, and a special response team from Texas had to help stop it.

"Those sites, the way we deal with them, generally they're remote. And often, like in this case, there's an open area around them so (any fire) doesn't jump into the forest," Donovan said. "Everything is designed to shut down if there's a problem. If a line ruptures, there's a drop in pressure and everything will stop."

For residents and officials living where the pipelines traverse, economic considerations are a bigger concern. Workers with both Dominion and EQT recently visited their companies' right of way near the house Benjamin Tate rents just off Kennel Road in Morgan in Greene County. He said they told him that they were getting ready to bring a new pipeline through but didn't give him many details.

"I don't know anything about it," Tate, 55, said of the pipeline, "but I'd like to go to work for them, I can tell you that."

Exports from just the Sabine terminal at the projected rate will drive up natural gas prices in the United States by at least 11.6 percent in 2015, the DOE said. That doesn't consider approval of any other export terminal.

Price increases like that could hurt manufacturers like those in Franklin County, said Republican Commissioner David S. Keller. The county is one of a few in Pennsylvania to sit outside the Marcellus play and cannot benefit much from ramped-up drilling. Four companies moved or consolidated manufacturing operations there in recent years, and Keller wants bountiful Marcellus gas to help grow that job sector.

"Balance is key," he said. "We still make things here. And natural gas is a potential low-cost means to help us to do that. ... So I wouldn't want to see a scenario where so much gas is exported that it affects that."

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