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Most residents at Monaca hearing question Shell's planned pipeline

Dillon Carr
| Tuesday, April 3, 2018, 11:01 p.m.
Craig Stevens, of Silver Lake in Susquehanna County, holds up a jar of muddy water and said it is what ends up on the other side of pipelines. He was among people who expressed opposition to the Falcon Pipeline, expected to carry 107,000 barrels of ethane daily to Shell's cracker plant being built along the Ohio River in Potter.
Dillon Carr | Tribune-Review
Craig Stevens, of Silver Lake in Susquehanna County, holds up a jar of muddy water and said it is what ends up on the other side of pipelines. He was among people who expressed opposition to the Falcon Pipeline, expected to carry 107,000 barrels of ethane daily to Shell's cracker plant being built along the Ohio River in Potter.

Some supporters of a proposed 97-mile ethane pipeline peppered the audience at a public hearing Tuesday in Beaver County, but many there expressed worries that spills could contaminate a drinking water source.

The state Department of Environmental Protection scheduled three public hearings after residents and environmental groups raised questions about Shell's Falcon Pipeline, which could carry 107,000 barrels of ethane daily to the company's $6 billion plant being built along the Ohio River in Potter.

Twenty-three people signed up to speak during Tuesday's public hearing at the Central Valley High School auditorium in Monaca. Nearly all spoke in opposition.

But Dave Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, called the pipeline viable and necessary for the success of Shell's cracker plant. Some area residents also said they were in favor of the pipeline.

Ken Janke of Hopewell wore a sticker that had a slash through the word "Pipeline" as he addressed DEP officials.

"Reject this or else — or else I'll lose my faith in the government … every government official that's in Pennsylvania," Janke said.

Janke said he is a member of the Service Employees International Union, one of the organizations that spearheaded protests in South Dakota against the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016.

"I'm concerned about the water. You mess with our water, you mess with us," he said.

Though the pipeline's proposed route does not cross the Ambridge Reservoir, Ambridge Water Authority General Manager Michael Dominick said he is concerned.

"The pipeline runs through the Ambridge (Reservoir) watershed and in Beaver County, crosses the main water line that supplies our treatment plant," Dominick said.

The AWA draws from the reservoir to supply drinking water to 30,000 people in nine Beaver County communities and four communities in Allegheny County.

"If we lost that as our water source, it would be devastating to many communities," he said.

The ethane pipeline, pending permits from the DEP, would cross 22 townships in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. In Pennsylvania, the nine are Chartiers, Mt. Pleasant, Robinson, North Fayette, Findlay, Independence, Raccoon, Potter and Greene.

A map developed by FracTracker Alliance shows 24 homes and three businesses within 300 feet of the pipeline's route in Raccoon, Independence and Mt. Pleasant townships. The nonprofit has said those structures are "at risk" in the event of a pipeline leak or explosion.

The entire Falcon Ethane Pipeline will intersect 319 streams and 174 wetlands, the map shows. The alliance is a nonprofit oil and gas industry watchdog group.

Two environmental groups — the Breath Project and Clean Air Council — also expressed opposition to the pipeline's route.

Regis Ryan of Hopewell was among speakers who favored the pipeline. He spoke of a bygone era when jobs at area steel mills were abundant.

"This is an opportunity to bring back these types of jobs with the Shell cracker plant. As much as we miss the jobs that are gone, we're replacing them with cleaner jobs," Ryan said.

Edwin Hill Jr. of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers agreed.

"The Shell pipeline company has been meeting with residents for about two years to ensure it's planned well to minimize impacts during construction," he said, encouraging Shell to hire local people to work on the pipeline.

Of the handful of supporters who spoke, all mentioned construction jobs that would support the local economy.

Residents in Washington and Allegheny counties will have the chance to address the DEP on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. Lauren Fraley, a DEP spokeswoman, said Tuesday that 13 residents have signed up in Washington County and 50 in Allegheny County.

The public comment period was extended to April 17 by the DEP.

The permits and public hearings deal only with the Pennsylvania portion of the project.

Should the permits be approved by DEP, construction on the pipeline could begin later this year. The cracker plant is expected to be operational in 2020.

Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2325, or via Twitter @dillonswriting.

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