Protect PT remains dedicated to safeguarding residents' health and quality of life from the ongoing proliferation of potentially hazardous oil and gas infrastructure through their communities and backyards. In order to attempt to achieve that mission, we must assertively interact with regulatory agencies during the critical permitting process to provide the necessary input from community members, and also to work on behalf of affected residents and communities to critique the permittee and ultimately influence the final decision of the DEP or other regulator in the favor of the public.
Protect PT has written a letter of critique to the DEP against the issuance of an Erosion & Sedimentation Control Permit to facilitate the construction of a new 30-inch gas pipeline and 16-inch water line proposed by Hyperion Midstream, LLC, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Olympus Energy, LLC. Hyperion wants these 8.5-mile pipelines to connect the Rogers Compressor Station in Upper Burrell to the Athena well pad in Washington Township.
The pipelines would traverse north-to-south through an area that includes Pine Run, Poke Run, and Thorn Run, as well as most of their adjoining tributaries. Most of these streams have the status of “special protection waters” and are designated as warm water fisheries (WWF) and high-quality cold water fisheries (HQ-CWF) by DEP. In addition, there are more than two dozen wetland areas within the proposed pipeline project area that are designated by DEP as exceptional value (EV) waters. To earn this designation, these streams and wetlands must be of pristine chemical and biological condition. Wetlands have been called the “kidneys of our watersheds” because of their crucial ecological function of filtering out excess sediments and toxic chemicals. By holding onto contaminated water long enough to allow pollutants to settle out, wetlands naturally purify water prior to entering sources of drinking water, such as groundwater, rivers, and reservoirs. Part of the special protection status for these watersheds comes from the fact that most of these streams flow in the Beaver Run Reservoir, the drinking water source for over 130,000 residents in several counties.
Any impact on the streams and watersheds that flow into reservoirs would have an impact on the quality of the water to be treated as drinking water. In addition, there are over (30) private groundwater wells within 500 feet of the proposed pipeline that were identified by Protect PT. This was done using eMapPA, an online tool accessible to the public.
Hyperion has a significant history of non-compliance with regard to their previously permitted sites in PA. Protect PT research found over 400 instances of non-compliance over the past 5 years for Hyperion, with those instances being associated with (7) pipeline permits previously issued by DEP in that time period, many of these being erosion and sedimentation control failures. The likelihood of non-compliance from Hyperion with regard to the construction and operation of this pipeline project is significantly high based on their previous non-compliance with pipeline permits.
These watersheds are especially sensitive with respect to their ability to support wildlife and provide a treatable source of drinking water to residents. In 2019, Protect PT and the Westmoreland Marcellus Citizen’s Group produced a technical report analyzing the water quality within the Beaver Run Reservoir. The Sweeney Treatment Plant treats and distributes over 20 million gallons of water per day from the Reservoir. The technical report demonstrated that industrial activities, such as oil and gas well pad and pipeline operations, cause impacts to watersheds that can increase the total organic carbon (TOC) within sources of drinking water. Elevated TOC causes problems for aquatic life in the source waters by promoting the proliferation of undesirable microorganisms and oxygen-depleting bacteria.
Furthermore, elevated TOC often requires an extra water treatment step at the drinking water plant to lower TOC prior to distribution to customers. Additional treatment in the form of adding chlorine and ammonia (chloramine treatment) to reduce TOC has been shown to produce additional toxic compounds known as Haloacetonitriles (HAN). Elevated TOC in drinking water has been shown to promote the formation of a class of toxic disinfection by-products known as Trihalomethanes (TTHM) and Haloacetic acids (HAA5). According to data provided by the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County, TTHM and HAA5 concentrations had been increasing at the Sweeney Treatment Plant since 2010. Data demonstrated levels of these disinfection by-products at or near their maximum contaminant levels (MCL) as defined by federal regulations. Drinking water containing TTHMs and HAA5s in excess of their MCL may lead to adverse health effects, liver and kidney problems, or nervous system effects, and an increased risk of getting cancer.
It is therefore of critical importance for organizations such as Protect PT, but also residents themselves, to effectively voice their concerns and defend their right to clean air, pure water, and the preservation of their environment. This is especially true when there are opportunities to provide public input prior to the construction of newly proposed infrastructure, such as in this case. The more public input supplied during these periods of opportunity, the greater the potential for the cumulative weight of public scrutiny to influence the outcome of current and future permit decisions.
To read Protect PT’s full technical comment to the PA DEP, visit our advocacy letters page.