By Lauren Zaepfel
After many months of discussion and public information meetings between residents, local officials and National Fuel reps., the Town of Wheatfield Planning Board approved the site plan for National Fuel's natural gas dehydration facility on Wednesday.
The unit is planned to be located on Liberty Drive and will serve as part of National Fuel's Northern Access 2016 pipeline project to transfer gas from Pennsylvania into Canada.
The dehydration facility's purpose is to it burn off excess water vapor in the gas to meet Canada's lower moisture regulations.
On many occasions, residents have expressed concerns about potential hazardous emissions being released into the atmosphere as a result of this process.
However, in July, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued an environmental assessment of the Northern Access Project, which includes the construction of the dehydration facility, stating there would be no significant environmental impact.
FERC's EA stated, "Based on our analysis, and considering that the project facilities would be largely co-located with existing facilities ... the impacts associated with the project can be sufficiently mitigated to support a finding of no significant impact and, thus, an EA is warranted. ... We have determined that if National Fuel constructs and operates the proposed facilities in accordance with its application and supplements and our recommended mitigation measures, approval of this proposal would not constitute a major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment."
National Fuel representatives have also said the levels of emissions would be very low and the facility would likely run only a few days out of the year.
After a public session last month, Garrow said two main questions still needed to be addressed for residents: "How do we know that the oxidizer works, and how do we know about any emissions?"
In terms of emissions, National Fuel re-engineered its thermal oxidizer to increase the rate of efficiency in burning potentially harmful emissions, including BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes).
"They increased their efficiency (from) 99.0 (percent) to a guaranteed 99.9 with expectations of going towards 99.995 and, potentially for those particular compounds, 100 percent," Garrow said.
The oxidizer's burning chamber has been increased in size, as well, which increases "detention time," meaning the materials are in high temperature longer, Garrow said.
He also said the temperature will be increased to over 14,000 degrees.
"Any possible compound that we might have any concerns about (automatically) ignites at 11,000 (degrees)," Garrow said. "So we're sure that anything coming out of the stack will be burnt."
As far as knowing if this oxidizer is operating properly, Garrow said, "The system has, in short, shutdown features that, if any part of the operations is inadequate, the temperatures goes below those temperatures, it will automatically shut down. So there's no potential for noncombusted gases to leave."
After the dehydrator is up and running, Garrow said National Fuel will also be providing the town with a confirmation stating all of its operations are successful at meeting all required specifications.
"I have to admit, we were not gentle on them (National Fuel) through the whole process," Planning Board Chairman Walter D. Garrow said. "It's been a long process. We demanded a lot and they gave us a lot. That was very nice of them to be that cooperative."
National Fuel spokesperson Karen Merkel wrote in an email, "Throughout the past two years, National Fuel has been listening to the concerns voiced to us by elected officials, town and planning boards and community residents regarding the pipeline route and the above ground facilities proposed as part of the Northern Access Project. We have implemented more stakeholder outreach efforts than any other pipeline project in the company's history ranging from guided tours of similar facilities, 15 public meetings, direct mail pieces and responded to questions and concerns brought to us through a number of channels and posted through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's certification process."
Overall, Garrow said much of what the Planning Board was able to address with National Fuel was due to residents' active participation regarding the project.
"They listed their concerns," he said. "We used their concerns with the powers we had to make sure that they were addressed."
"Concerns relative to the pipeline route, noise, emissions, property values, lighting, security and environmental impacts were taken into context during the design of the facilities," Merkel said.
She added, "We have listened to the concerns and we have addressed the concerns both in the design of the facilities as well as in our community outreach."
Although the town has approved the project, the full go ahead from FERC has yet to be granted.
Merkel anticipates a ruling on the project from FERC in late October.
"Permits from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation are necessary," Merkel said. "The in-service date of the project, if approved, is November 2017."