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DEP extends comment period for pipeline near Ambridge Reservoir

| Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018, 3:36 p.m.

There's now more time and more ways to comment on key permits tied to a 45-mile ethane pipeline proposed by Shell for three Western Pennsylvania counties.

The Department of Environmental Protection expanded public participation after “intense public interest” in the project, DEP spokesperson Lauren Fraley said. The comment period for a water obstruction and encroachment application permit for the Falcon Ethane Pipeline now ends on April 17 instead of Feb. 20, Fraley said. The agency also opened a public comment period that ends April 17 for an earth disturbance permit.

Environmental regulators additionally will hold public hearings on the proposed pipeline route in Beaver, Washington, and Allegheny counties.

The DEP didn't have to hold public hearings but opted to, Fraley said, while the state agency conducts a technical review of the applications. Comments can be mailed or emailed to the DEP.

Meanwhile, a citizens group based in the Sewickley Valley welcomes the chance for additional public comment — but they'd like to see more scrutiny about the possible effects on the drinking water supply, a member said this week. The group will meet at 7 p.m. Feb. 22 at the Sewickley Public Library.

Citizens First, based in the Sewickley Valley, has been hosting informational programs for the last several months.

Members Rosemary Stewart of Bell Acres and Gail Murray of Edgeworth said they and others are concerned about the proposed pipeline proximity to the Ambridge Reservoir in Beaver County, which supplies drinking water thousands of people. The Edgeworth Water Authority purchases water from the Ambridge Water Authority.

Stewart said the group is about bringing in experts and “getting the other side of the information out.”

“We are very concerned about a pipeline going through that watershed,” Stewart said. “We are concerned about erosion and sedimentation, about problems after it's in place. We are concerned about the location of water intake. We are just concerned.”

She said the group would like DEP to conduct a technical review to ensure state regulators are aware of all of the conditions in the area surrounding the pipeline. She also said they'd like them to consider a route that wouldn't cross an area near a drinking water supply “There isn't another source. It's the only source of water,” Stewart said.

A spokesperson for Shell told the Trib in January that the company is committed to building a pipeline in “a safe and environmentally sound manner.”

The proposed pipeline would begin at the MarkWest Houston Processing and Fractionation Facility in Washington County, then go through Washington, Allegheny and Beaver counties before ending in Potter, Beaver County, according to the DEP.

The nonprofit group FracTracker Alliance obtained copies of Shell's permit applications from the DEP, according to the group's website. The group released data in January that shows different potential impacts — such as the route, facilities, and easements, and crossing bodies of water. The group publishes information related to the risks of oil and gas development.

According to the group's analysis, the proposed Falcon pipeline would “cross tributaries to the Service Creek watershed 13 times.” These tributaries feed into the headwater streams of the Ambridge Reservoir, according to the group's analysis.

The Ambridge Water Authority draws from the reservoir to supply drinking water to 30,000 people in nine Beaver County communities as well as Edgeworth, Leet, Leetsdale, and Bell Acres in Allegheny County.

The permits and public hearings deal only with the Pennsylvania pipeline portion of the project, spanning three states.

The pipelines would feed an ethane cracker plant Royal Dutch Shell has proposed along the banks of the Ohio River in Potter, Beaver County, a facility that the company projects will create about 600 jobs when it opens in the early 2020s. The complex will produce polyethylene — a plastic used in products such as bags and bottles — from ethane obtained from Marcellus shale gas.

A separate portion of pipeline would link to a facility in Cadiz, Ohio, and the Utica East Ohio plant in Scio, Ohio, to the Beaver County complex. The pipeline would cross portions of Ohio and the West Virginia panhandle as well, according to the DEP.

The DEP will announce the public hearing dates on its website and in the Pennsylvania Bulletin, Fraley said.

Kimberly Palmiero is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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