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Upper Bucks residents lob pipeline complaints at DEP hearing

More than 25 people spoke out against the Adelphia Gateway pipeline project at a public hearing.

Rose Merrigan was one of more than 25 Upper Bucks County residents who commented Tuesday during a state Department of Environmental Protection hearing on the Adelphia Gateway pipeline's proposed compressor station  in West Rockhill Township.
Rose Merrigan was one of more than 25 Upper Bucks County residents who commented Tuesday during a state Department of Environmental Protection hearing on the Adelphia Gateway pipeline's proposed compressor station in West Rockhill Township.Read moreWILLIAM THOMAS CAIN / FOR THE INQUIRER

On a brisk night in Bucks County, a group of retirees and young families unloaded on state officials their frustrations about natural-gas infrastructure.

"They say this pipeline is for the benefit of Pennsylvanians, but it is not. This line goes to Marcus Hook for export," said Christine Shelly of West Rockhill Township. "Adelphia is looking to squeeze the last drops of a dying energy source out of the ground, oblivious to the cries of the people, who plead for protection as our air, ground and water become fouled."

Shelly was one of more than 25 residents who spoke Tuesday at a hearing organized by the state Department of Environmental Protection as part of its air-quality review of the Adelphia Gateway project.

Adelphia Gateway LLC is proposing to convert a hybrid oil/natural gas pipeline to solely pump natural gas from a plant in Northampton County to a refinery in Marcus Hook, Delaware County. The company, a subsidiary of New Jersey Resources, bought the 84-mile pipeline from Talen Energy Co. last year for $189 million.

That planned conversion, under review by state and federal authorities, requires two 5,625-horsepower compressor stations. One, dubbed the Quakertown Compressor Station,  is proposed for a 1.5-acre lot in a residential neighborhood in West Rockhill.

The proposal has drawn scorn from residents in the rural township in the northwest corner of the county.

"I have a quiet country lifestyle, and I've been here more than 50 years," said Shirley Mann, who lives across the street from the site where the compressor station would be built. "It seems like Adelphia is coming in and dictating how I'm supposed to live."

The residents who went to West Rockhill Elementary School for the hearing lobbed questions at Jim Rebarchak, the air quality program manager for the DEP's Southeast Regional office, often amid applause.

Adelphia did not send any representatives to the hearing, nor was it required to, according to Rebarchak. The company has said it's working closely with township officials to create a facility that blends into the area "while delivering much-needed natural gas safely to its intended end users."

During its air-quality review, DEP officials will weigh the residents' comments — as well as any others submitted in writing before Dec. 14. If the application is approved, DEP will provide Adelphia with a plan on how to monitor the stations in a way "that will ensure the construction and operation are conducted in compliance with applicable rules and regulations," according to the agency.

Rebarchak, per the protocol of the hearing, couldn't directly answer any questions.  Residents covered a wide swath of topics, including the project's environmental impact, integrity of the existing pipeline — first installed in the 1970s — and how local volunteer fire departments would respond to pipeline-related emergencies.

A frequent source of contention came from how Adelphia has distributed information to residents.

Tammy Springer said she lives about a mile and a half from the proposed location, but is closing on a new home much closer, where she hopes to start a family. She and her husband didn't know about Adelphia's planned station until a few months ago, when a neighbor put a flier in her mailbox.

Now, she's worried about pollutants that would be emitted by the station, concerned about the potential impact they might have on children, or that they might aggravate her congenital heart defect.

"This may seem like a rural area, but this is definitely residential," Springer said. "And it's an area where people want to live and raise families."

Adelphia Gateway's application to the DEP says the natural-gas powered compressors at the Quakertown station will run continuously. They'll emit carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and volatile organic compounds, at levels the company estimates to be below what the department considers a "major source" of pollutants.

"You say you're going to monitor operations, but who is going to come to make sure my children aren't going to end up with cancer?" said Cathy Weierbach, whose home on Rich Hill Road is 500 feet from the proposed station.

"We feel people should be the first priority in this site and how it's being built," she said. "It doesn't seem to be in our best interest. … It seems to be all about cost."