Residents concerned about 4.2 miles of pipeline to cross Dallas Twp.

First Posted: 5/8/2014

Tom and Joan Byron consider the land they own as belonging not only to themselves, but to the community. From maintaining soccer and lacrosse fields, to creating a community park, to hosting 1,100 student athletes for a major cross-country event, the Dallas couple enjoys sharing their property with others. They were even able to create a cross-country course for Misericordia University.

A different type of course, however, may soon run through a section of the Byron’s 247-acre property on Letterkenny Lane, whether welcome there or not.

Maps routing the Atlantic Sunrise Project, a $3 billion expansion of the existing Transco Pipeline owned by Tulsa, Oklahoma-based energy company Williams, show the proposed pipeline running across approximately 3,500 feet of the Byron’s land, including two streams, two wetlands and an old growth forest.

While Tom Byron said he isn’t necessarily “against” the Williams company, pipelines in general or the use of natural gas, he feels the currently-proposed route for the expansion project is poorly planned.

“They say they want to do what will leave the least impact,” he said, “but I’m looking at maps and there are areas that would be less impact.”

His wife agreed.

“We’re totally interested in the planet surviving and people seeking…technology and advancements — we’re not against that,” she said. “But we are against destroying the environment needlessly when you can do something else.”

The couple plans to take their questions and concerns to an upcoming public meeting to be held by Williams from 6 to 8 p.m. on Election Day, May 20 at Lake-Lehman High School.

One of those concerns, they said, is the lack of information Williams has provided to them regarding the project, along with the short notice they were given what little information they have.

“In order to plan the Atlantic Sunrise Project,” Tom said, “they’ve been working on this for years. And we just hear about it through a phone call from somebody we’ve never heard of, and they say, ‘we may be using your property.’”

Williams spokesperson Christopher Stockton said the company desires to hear the community’s concerns and plans to take those concerns into account when finalizing the pipeline expansion route, which is why it is setting up meetings such as the one on Tuesday.

“We want people to come and let us know what they think,” Stockton said. “And if there’s anything we can do to address those concerns, if there’s any routing changes that we can make — those landowners know their property better than we do, so if they can point things out to us that we’re not aware of — then maybe we can work with them to adjust the routing to address some of those concerns.”

Determining the route

According to Stockton, Williams’ existing Transco Pipeline in Luzerne County, built in the early 1950s, originally ran along the north side of the county. It then expanded into a second line on the southern side of the county, giving it a diamond shape. The extension will begin at the northern part of the diamond, Central Luzerne County, continuing into Susquehanna County. From there, it will parallel the north part of the existing line to Compressor Station 517 in Benton.

The expansion is estimated to involve 154 properties in five Luzerne County townships, including Fairmount, Ross, Lake, Lehman and Dallas, placing about 4.2 miles of new 30-inch pipe in Dallas.

Maps of the project are available on the company’s website at Stockton emphasized, however, these plans are preliminary and subject to change. He said the project is currently in its “pre-filing” stage, which lasts about a year.

“It’s where you get out and start talking to the communities, landowners, other agencies, stakeholders,” he said, “and you kind of try to identify, ‘Here’s our starting point, here’s the route we’re looking at, are there issues that we need to be aware of and are there things that we need to address?’ so that we can adjust our route and avoid or try to minimize those impacts.”

He said the first thing one does when determining the route of such a project is to attempt to “co-locate,” or place it along existing corridors.

“In Luzerne,” he said, “that’s the vast majority of the line — it looks like probably 80% of the line — is co-located with that existing Transco line.”

He said, however, he is not aware of any such existing corridors in Dallas Township.

The company’s last choice, according to Stockton, is the option of obtaining the easements via eminent domain, although sometimes that is the only option.

“We try to avoid that at all costs,” he said, adding Williams works hard to negotiate with landowners to give them a more-than-fair compensation. “We’re not buying their land and that’s important to note,” he said. “They still retain ownership. All we are obtaining is the right to install the pipes and go in and maintain them.”

The reason for the expansion

According to Stockton, the existing pipeline operates from east to west, from Philadelphia to the Clinton and Potter Counties area. He said because of all the Marcellus shale discoveries, that line became a “major artery” for shale gas entering the system. The company went from getting 225 million cubic feet a day to 3.5 billion cubic feet a day.

“We connect with New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.,” he said. “All the way up and down the East Coast, we provide major gas supplies to all these utilities and power plants. So what’s happening is that we have this existing infrastructure that’s full and we have all these producers in the area who want to be able to transport gas on our system.”

Stockton said the project is “very historic,” as it is to be the largest expansion in the company’s history to the present time. He said it’s also historic in that it will allow Marcellus gas to be carried as far as Alabama, which no other pipeline has yet accomplished.

“What’s happened in recent years,” he said, “is we’ve seen a shift. And now, we’ve reached the tipping point where we actually get more of our gas from the Pennsylvania area than we do from the Gulf of Mexico. So we’re turning our pipeline around and making it what’s called ‘bi-directional.’ And that means that, where normally we would just flow gas from south to north, now we’re going to start flowing gas from north to south.”

What’s next?

The next step after the pre-filing process is for the company to file its application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), as it is an interstate pipeline. First, however, it must finalize the project’s route, hopefully working with landowners and others potentially impacted to come to agreements.

But whether or not those agreements will be friendly, remains to be seen.

“We’ve heard wonderful things about Williams company,” said Joan Byron, “and we’ve heard horrible things about Williams company.”

She and her husband have questions they hope to ask on May 20, and both said they hope others will come out to the meeting as well, as they believe there to be a major need for the education on the matter within the community.

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