Pennsylvania’s natural gas production is prolific, with an output greater than every state but Texas. Most of that production is the achieved by fracking. Of course, once natural gas is produced, it needs somewhere to go. A Task Force commissioned by Governor Wolf found in 2016 that the pace of natural gas production in the state far outpaces the capacity of infrastructure to transport and deliver it. Not surprisingly, then, the Commonwealth is awash in pipeline construction. The Mariner East 2 Pipeline is scheduled to come online this year, upon completion of the pipeline that cuts 350 miles through southern Pennsylvania. The Atlantic Sunrise will add 183 miles of new pipeline in Columbia, Lancaster, Lebanon, Luzerne, Lycoming, Northumberland, Schuylkill, Susquehanna, and Wyoming Counties. The 118-mile PennEast Pipeline is expected to begin construction this year. PennEast will carry natural gas from Dallas in Luzerne County, through Carbon, Northampton, and Bucks Counties. Each is proposed to connect to infrastructure outside of Pennsylvania.
These projects are often touted as certain economic boons for the communities they pass through. However, landowners over whose property the pipeline crosses receive no direct benefit from gas flowing through the pipeline, but instead “just compensation” (because pipelines are regulated as public utilities, they have the same power of eminent domain as the State, and either negotiates or condemns easements over private property).
Less regularly publicized by the pipeline builders are the potential environmental and health risks their pipelines pose. Upon completion, pipelines may leak out their contents. In 2017, the Dakota Access Pipeline spilled five times (it only operated for six months in 2017), and the Energy Transfer Crude Oil Pipeline spilled almost 5,000 gallons of crude oil. During construction of the Mariner East 2, there have been over 100 spills of drilling fluid, in some instances in the thousands of gallons.
These mishaps can pose potential risks to more than the environment. There are already reported cases of water rendered undrinkable as the result of pipeline accidents. If you have a private well and live in an area of pipeline operation or construction (or fracking, for that matter) it is always advisable to test your water prior to any accident, to establish a “baseline.”
By Chris Markos