‘Unfair, illegal … unjust,’ New report: proposed compressor station poses health risks

Published 10:59 am Thursday, December 15, 2016

If it is built, those living near a proposed 53,515 horsepower natural gas fired compressor station in Buckingham County would be forced to endure air and noise pollution, according to a new 19-page technical report titled “Pollution Report: Unfair, Illegal and Unjust.”

The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL), which has lobbied for months against the proposed 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) project, issued the report Wednesday.

“Noise and air pollution from (the) natural gas compressor station, as revealed in this report, would place a disproportionate impact on minority communities in Buckingham County,” BREDL officials claim in the report. “Locating a compressor station in a rural district would violate the county zoning ordinance.”

BREDL officials added that a list of permitted uses in the county’s A-1 zoning district doesn’t include compressor stations, “nor does it include energy facilities.”

If granted county and federal approval, the compressor station, which would help transport the natural gas down through the line, would be located along Route 56 between Shelton Store and Union Hill roads.

“On average, at low temperatures, the combustion turbines at the Buckingham Compressor Station would emit 13 times as much nitrogen oxides, six times as much carbon dioxide and two times as much volatile organic compounds. Pollution controls are unreliable,” BREDL claims in the report.

The station, along with the proposed pipeline project, have drawn nearly united opposition from those who’ve spoken before the county’s planning commission and board of supervisors.

In late November, planners recommended approval of a special use permit allowing construction of the station. The county planning commission’s 7-0-1 recommendation to approve the permit with 40 conditions is now before the board of supervisors, which has final approval authority.

Supervisors will hold a public hearing on Thursday, Jan. 5, at 6 p.m. in the County Administration Complex.

In a press release regarding the report, BREDL officials said the Buckingham County Planning Commission “failed, with respect to its legal obligation, to ensure that the facility does not have a disproportionate impact on Buckingham’s African-American community.”

“Our analysis indicates that residents of the Union Hill community who live near this compressor station would breathe air poisoned with toxic contamination, resulting in serious health risks,” said Lou Zeller, the report’s author and BREDL’s executive director. According to the release, Zeller based his statement on information contained in Dominion’s air permit application submitted to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ).

The report examines how compressor stations operate, detailing specific operations regarding turbine compressors, zoning errors, potential air and noise pollution and “environmental justice.”

In response, Aaron Ruby, speaking for Dominion and ACP LLC, said the planning commission “reached their decision after several months of thoughtful deliberation and after reviewing extensive research on these issues … It’s unfortunate BREDL has taken a different approach and continues to mislead the public with scare tactics and misinformation.”

Compressor stations “do not adversely impact the health of nearby residents,” Ruby said. “That’s been the determination of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and other agencies after conducting extensive research on the subject.”

Ruby said Dominion’s studies have shown that noise levels for “our nearest neighbors will be virtually inaudible. They’ll actually be lower than the typical outdoor noise level in most areas of the county.”

According to a Dominion-led sound study, the closest residence to the proposed station would have an increase of 2.9 dBA — or decibel sound levels — totaling 47.5 dBA with the compressor station and ambient noise. Sound levels from a station must be below 55 dBA at noise sensitive areas, or homes, according to federal regulations.

Ruby said the emission control technologies employed at the facility “will keep air emissions far below regulatory limits, which are designed to protect the environment and public health. In fact, air emissions from our facility will represent only a tiny fraction of the emission levels that already exist in the county today.”

An application submitted to VDEQ from ACP “indicates the plant would emit huge levels of air pollution,” BREDL claimed in the report, citing more than 468,000 pounds per year of pollutants, including nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic compounds, particulate matter and hazardous air pollutants. “The … compressor station would emit 647 million pounds of carbon dioxide and other global warming pollutants every year of operation,” the report claims.

The report lists hazardous air pollutants as formaldehyde and hexane, which can cause irritation to eyes and the respiratory system, cause headaches, nausea, difficulty breathing and can be “poisonous or destructive of nerve tissue.”

According to the report, a combined more than 6,500 pounds per year of formaldehyde and hexane would be emitted from the compressor station.

According to Dominion, the largest amount of pollutant from the station, measured in tons per year, and based on all compressor units running constantly at 8,670 hours per year at the maximum operating load, would be carbon monoxide at 95.2 tons per year. Citing a government study from 2011, Buckingham County currently sees 5,577.8 tons per year of carbon monoxide.

The BREDL report, which cites studies and other documents, claims “distributing levels of sound become a medical issue when the noise interferes with normal activities and the quality of life.”

Citing the conditions recommended to supervisors from the planning commission, BREDL officials said “this level of noise pollution would be twice as high as the typical sound level in a rural area; i.e., 45 decibels. The proposal fails to state a noise limit … As written, the special use permit approved by the Buckingham County Planning Commission would be unenforceable.”

According to the report, ACP LLC is requesting the special use permit under the public utility exemption in the zoning ordinance, meaning, “to qualify for this exception, a facility must be a public utility. However, the compressor station proposed by the ACP LLC is not a public utility.”

The report notes ACP LLC is not listed on the Virginia State Corporation Commission’s website as a “regulated gas utility.”