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Niagara County to take part in gas compressor study

LOCKPORT – The Niagara County Health Department will be taking part in a study of the health impacts of natural gas compressors, but it seems unlikely the results will be available in time to play a role in the current compressor controversy in Pendleton.

The county would not be spending any money on the study, county Public Health Director Daniel J. Stapleton said. “We would be offering the expertise of our public health engineers,” he said.

The county Board of Health voted Feb. 25 to participate, at the request of the Madison County Health Department. Madison asked four other counties where gas companies are seeking to build compressors on pipelines to participate in the planned study.

However, Eric Faisst, Madison County’s public health director, told The Buffalo News that the funding for the project is not yet in place. Madison County is seeking up to $500,000 a year for five years from the National Institutes of Health.

Madison also asked Rensselaer, Montgomery and Schoharie counties to take part. All five are sites of proposed compressor projects.

In Pendleton, National Fuel is seeking permission from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to build two compressors, totaling more than 22,000 horsepower, to push gas through a pipeline that would carry gas from the hydrofracking fields of Pennsylvania through Western New York to Canada.

In neighboring Wheatfield, National Fuel wants to build a dehydration station to remove excess moisture from the gas before it reaches Canada. Canadian regulators allow less water vapor in natural gas than U.S. authorities do.

Opponents of the projects contend that the compressor would be dangerous and hazardous to the health of nearby residents. They have cited the possibility of emissions of toxic chemicals that come out of the ground with natural gas, regardless of what means are used to extract the gas from the ground.

However, despite claims from environmentalists who have spoken at several public meetings in Pendleton and elsewhere in the state, Faisst called all those reports of health impacts “anecdotal.”

“There just isn’t enough evidence,” he said.

Faisst said the Madison County Board of Supervisors spent $90,000 on a baseline health study of residents of Sheds, a hamlet in the Town of Georgetown where Dominion Gas is seeking FERC permission to build a compressor. However, Faisst said,”I only had 17 households in my study.”

He said he told opponents of the project, “You’re saying there’s a health impact. We’re trying to find an objective way of showing that.”

Faisst said Madison County wants to design a before-and-after study of health impacts of the compressor, anticipating that FERC soon will approve the one in Sheds.

“We’re not saying whether they should be there or not,” Faisst said. “If we find there’s no impacts, the gas industry will be happy. If we find there are impacts, we can work with the gas company.”

Stapleton said, “They’ll be looking at what the risks are for the residents and for the children who are outside.”

He said the study will not grapple with other issues related to the pipeline, such as the impact on property values, but will stick to health topics only.