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Wheatfield seeks concessions from National Fuel on dewatering station

WHEATFIELD – Town officials are hoping to win some concessions from National Fuel on its planned natural gas dewatering station, but they weren’t optimistic last week.

“They made it known they don’t have to play nice with us,” Councilman Randy W. Retzlaff said at a Town Board meeting, at which the company’s March 2 presentation to the Planning Board was discussed at length.

The company and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington say the commission has the only say over whether and where National Fuel’s project is built.

“They can steamroll over us, but they want to come across as a good neighbor first,” Town Attorney Matthew E. Brooks said.

National Fuel spokeswoman Karen L. Merkel said, “We fully intend to treat the town process seriously and have, on numerous occasions, committed to minimize any impacts on the community. We treat all questions as legitimate ones and will answer them in detail within the site plan. Project engineers are currently working on the plan for a late April completion and a May presentation (to the Planning Board).”

As part of a $455 million upgrade of its Western New York pipeline system to export gas obtained through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, from Pennsylvania to Canada, National Fuel plans to extend pipelines in Pendleton and Wheatfield, leading to controversies in both towns.

In Pendleton, a planned pair of powerful compressors to push the gas along are proposed for a site now owned by the Tonawanda Sportsmen’s Club on Killian Road. In Wheatfield, the plan is for a gas dewatering station on Liberty Drive.

While Pendleton has hired environmental attorney Gary A. Abraham to fight the project, Wheatfield hasn’t gone that route. But a public meeting in January showed significant opposition to the dehydration station, which would remove excess water vapor from the gas in order for it to meet Canadian regulatory standards. U.S. regulations allow “wetter” gas to be sold.

The station would boil off the water vapor, but it also could emit toxic chemicals that come out of the ground with the gas, such as benzene and toluene. National Fuel officials say the system they plan to use would destroy 99 percent of those gases.

Officials and residents at the Planning Board meeting made it clear that they wanted National Fuel to invest in a more stringent system to raise that to 100 percent.

“For the cost of a few extra degrees in their oxidizer and some periodic analysis, they would buy a lot of goodwill with the public,” Planning Board Chairman Walter D. Garrow said.

Brooks said a petition for independent monitoring of emissions “might convince them to spend a couple thousand dollars to put that equipment in.”

Councilman Larry L. Helwig said members of the Pendleton Planning Board have been emailing information to their Wheatfield colleagues.

Helwig said, “We’re fighting a monster here. If we compare notes, we can’t beat them, but maybe we can get some good concessions out of them.”

Garrow said the town wants background noise levels at the dewatering station to be held to current levels, and lighting to be “dark sky friendly,” meaning no upward illumination as well as no light directed off the plant property.

Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe noted that National Fuel plans to use only an acre of the 40 acres that it is buying on Liberty Drive. As for the rest, Cliffe said, “We’re hoping they’ll donate it to the (Western New York) Land Conservancy or the town’s green space, so they don’t build another pile of pipes.”