West Virginia DEP Won’t Monitor Light, Sound Pollution at Compressor Sites

Photo by Casey Junkins
The Battle Run natural gas compressor station sits less than two miles east of The Highlands in Ohio County.

Photo by Casey Junkins The Battle Run natural gas compressor station sits less than two miles east of The Highlands in Ohio County.

VALLEY GROVE — Excessive light and sound may not pose the health threat that carcinogenic benzene and formaldehyde originating from a natural gas compressor can, but those living in the vicinity of such a station may find it difficult to get a good night’s sleep.

After an objection filed by the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection has decided not to regulate the light and sound associated with such compressor stations, including the large one located less than two miles east of The Highlands known as the Battle Run Appalachia Midstream Services compressor in the Valley Grove area.

“To say that we’re disappointed is an understatement. We feel like we got ambushed by this,” West Virginia Surface Owners’ Rights Organization Project Manager Julie Archer said. “This is just a complete disservice to the members of the public who have to live near these things.”

According to Penn State University, natural gas compressor stations are usually placed at 40- to 70-mile intervals along a pipeline that takes the product to market. Compression is required to get the gas to move through the pipeline.

The natural gas enters the compressor station via a pipeline that is connected to gathering lines, which are connected to individual gas wells. At the station, the gas is compressed either by a turbine, motor or engine.

Last year, West Virginia University occupational and environmental health professor Michael McCawley participated in a study that suggests those living near fracking operations can experience “sleep disturbance, cardiovascular disease and other conditions that are negatively impacted by stress” because of light and sound pollution.

“Noise exposure, like other health threats, may disproportionately impact vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly and people with chronic illnesses,” the researchers state.

As the Marcellus and Utica shale boom proliferated in recent years, the number of compressor stations to move the material has also increased in both Ohio and West Virginia.

“These things are just all over the place. There are places in Wetzel County and Doddridge County where you can see how they create such a problem for those who live out there,” Archer said. “There are limitations for some of the air pollutants. But they are basically saying it’s OK if people can’t sleep or can’t use a part of their house.”

According to documents on the DEP website, dep.wv.gov, regulators sought public comment regarding a new permit for these compressor stations. Jerry Williams, an engineer in the department’s Division of Air Quality, signed a form dated Jan. 27 stating that after reviewing concerns expressed by WVONGA, the department would not regulate light and sound emissions.

“The industry is making enough money that they can put these protections in place,” Archer said. “It is shameful that they act as if this would have been some major burden for them.”

A Jan. 23 letter to the DEP, signed by WVONGA Executive Director Anne Blankenship, states the industry has total investment of “nearly $10 billion in West Virginia.”

“The West Virginia Division of Air Quality has no authority to regulate noise and light … ,” the letter states. “Even if it could, the prohibition of a nuisance and unreasonable light and noise is too vague to enforce, as it gives the permittee no guidance as to what constitutes permitted behavior.”

Neither Blankenship nor DEP spokesman Jake Glance could be reached for comment Monday.

Archer said this is an example of a matter that was supposed to be left for study when the state’s Horizontal Well Control Act became law in 2011.

“The DEP has to have multiple years’ worth of data on some of this stuff by now,” she added.

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