Monday, November 16, 2009

Compressor Stations a side-effect of Marcellus Drilling

The current message to landowners situated over the Marcellus shale is that if they want to lease their land for good money, they need to provide a way for the gas company to get the gas out and send it to market. That means allowing drilling on their land and allowing pipelines.

It also means allowing gas compressor stations, and over the past summer Chesapeake Energy constructed a new and larger compressor station just a few miles from here. Gathering lines from six local wells carry natural gas to the station on Federal Road in Erin, NY. The compressors increase the gas pressure so it can be pushed into the Millennium Pipeline (which carries the gas off to NYC).

Chesapeake threw the on-switch last month and already two of the nearby neighbors are complaining about the noise.

“It runs 24 hours a day seven days a week,” said Richard Usack who lives close to 500 feet away. “It sounds like a lawnmower running outside my window all the time. This is ruining my life.”

And it’s not just the noise that bothers Usack. “At night it’s lit up like a Christmas tree,” he said, and those lights shine into his windows all night long. Usack has called Chesapeake a couple of times about his concerns, and they’ve sent someone down to measure the sound. But they don’t share the results with Usack.

What really bothers Usack, though, is that the town didn't have a site review or notify neighbors about the project. Sure, he sold the one-acre parcel to Columbia a few years back - and Columbia sold it to Chesapeake - but Usack didn’t realize they would use it for such a large compressor because the town has zoning. And that area is zoned residential/agricultural, not industrial. The compressor, he says, is industrial in nature.

According to the Town Code Enforcement officer John McCracken, Chesapeake, already had an existing compressor there. Therefore, they were exempt from everything except the building permit for the structure surrounding the compressor.

Flipping through the blueprints on his desk, McCracken reads off a few design specifications:  a hospital-grade muffler; estimated engine power around 700 hp; noise level expected to be 40 decibels at the site. Oh yeah, and it's powered by natural gas. More about that later.

McCracken estimates that Erin will see another five compressor stations as the Marcellus shale is developed. To place an essentially industrial activity in the currently zoned residential/agricultural district will require special use permits, he notes adding, “If towns don’t have zoning, they won’t be able to control where compressor stations are located.”

This is becoming a problem south of the border, in Bradford County, PA.  Brian Davis, Bradford County planner, says the county has no zoning and already there are three compression stations. He expects more to come.

Residents may have little say about where a compression station goes, but that doesn’t mean they’ll keep mum. When people complained about the noise at a compressor station near Albany, the company installed acoustic blankets inside the compressor station buildings to help muffle the sound.

Right now nobody in Erin is thinking about potential air quality concerns. That's because there's only one compressor in town. But Calvin Tillman, the mayor of Dish, Texas, warns that emissions from gas-powered compressor stations like the one in Erin have the potential to pose serious problem.

In a phone interview last week he explained some of the problems Dish residents were experiencing. But we have eleven compressor engines, he emphasized. The problem is, they are located just outside the town boundaries, and just beyond town jurisdiction. Dish has no control over where those compressors are located.

"Texas allows the companies to permit each station separately," Tillman explained. It's done with "permit by rule". As long as each compressor does not reach or exceed the allowable emissions threshold they are permitted. "They don't consider the cumulative effect of all the compressors in the area," he said.

The air in Dish got so bad that the folks in town voted to use  a chunk of taxpayer money - 15 percent of their annual budget - to fund an air quality study. Of course, the energy companies have been saying our study wasn't well done, Tillman said. But now the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality is conducting their own studies and, according to Tillman, their results support the earlier Dish study. Results are posted on the town website at


  1. I understand the environmental concerns that you have about the compressor station in Erin. But have you personally contacted Chesapeake to voice your concerns and ask your questions before taking hearsay information from 2 neighbors of the facility? One of these neighbors being Mr. Usack, who obviously states in the quotation from your blog, recieved compensation from Colombia and/or Chesapeake for the land on which the compressor sits. This is also the same man that has been compensated for a natural gas well that sits on his property. The people in Erin and the surrounding areas are making a profit from the production of natural gas in this area.

  2. It is also my understanding that companies like Columbia and Chesapeake are very interested in keeping the neighbors and landowners happy. Did you know that there is a row of pine trees beside his home and these would reduce sound and noise? The same pine trees that he conveniently does not show in the photo you have posted on your blog. It is interesting to me that he chose to leave the big details out of his complaints and stories to you and your followers. I am also curious about these blinding lights Mr. Usack describes. He states that the compressor station is "lit up like a Christmas tree," but do you see that one lone light in the picture that you have posted??? Have you actually been to Mr. Usack's home or driven by to see the distance between his home and the site? Have you verified any of the details in his complaints and stories before sharing them? From the picture you show, I see not an obtrusive industrial site, but a well-kept and neat property!

  3. I feel that the quotation that you used in your blog is a bit dramatic to say the least! Mr. Usack compared the noise level to a lawnmower and then states that it is ruining his life. Personally, I would be happy that it didn't sound like a freight train or a factory at a full production level.
    Mr. Usack should be counting his blessings that the company is willing to listen to his voiced complaints and send people out to the site to address his issues. The site is kept neat and clean, this he should also be thankful for!! I have seen sites that have unpainted pipes and industrial materials scattered about, but this is not true at the compressor station in Erin. The housing for the compressor is also impressive. The Usacks and neighbors don't have to see the compressor in all of its glory. They have a nice green, neat and tidy building to look at instead!!! I would also be thankful that the compressor station is putting out only 40 decibels of noice that is below a normal conversation at 60 decibels, a diswasher on rinse is only 50 decibels, and a power mower puts out only 90 decibels.

  4. I am also concerned that Mr.Usack's complaints are unwarrented for the simple reason that he is no longer being compensated for that particular site. He sold the property instead of leasing the parcel to the energy companies. Had he sold the property to a family and they built a grand house that blocked his view of the road way would he be as concerned? Would he be calling the new landowners demanding that they move their home, turn off their outside lights, or stop mowing their lawn???
    Out of curiosity, what energy source do you heat your home with or cook your dinner with? If it is not natural gas then what, electricity? Should we even get into the environmental impact that those companies have on the environment? Propane, fuel oil, coal do you ustilize any of these natuarl resources in your home? Production of all of these natural resources have an impact on the environment and all of these we utilize in one way or another. Are we not to blame as well?

  5. To reply to Anon's 4 comments (it sounds like the same person to me, but then, who knows?) -
    There is a difference between listening to your dishwasher - a noise you have control over and know when it will end - and noise that is beyond your control. Recent studies show that even low level noise effects people's health (much of it stress-related).
    I agree: Mr. Usack sold the property. But he is not the only neighbor affected by the noise.
    As for Chesapeake - I called numerous times and no one called back. Maybe I should embarrass them and note that in bold type.
    Out of curiosity, what do you heat your home with? Does it really matter what I do when I am telling someone else's story? This is an interesting tactic: attack the storyteller. ho-hum.
    I would reply to you personally but (imagine this!) you don't want to claim ownership of your comments.

  6. Noise is not the only concern from compressor stations. See the videos of fugitive emissions on posted on my blog. Remember, the compressor station emissions is what caused the health problems for the people in DISH, TX.

  7. Pls note: The draft SGEIS from the DEC is open to public comment through Dec 31 - see Section 6.10 at this web link:

    The section on Noise has no mention of the compressors / compressor stations -- please post your input to ensure the DEC includes this.

  8. Hi Sue,

    I don't get the Broader View Weekly every week and just found this story on your blogsite and wonder if it has run in the paper. If not, I would like to see it as it might scare some people into realizing that it could happen next door to them, and to get involved with their town board to take protective measures, and to write comment on the dSGEIS by Dec. 31 as noted above.

    Mary Thorpe/Van Etten