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Wheatfield OKs improved version of controversial National Fuel project

WHEATFIELD – National Fuel received the green light Wednesday night for its controversial plan to construct a new natural gas dehydration facility in Wheatfield as part of its Northern Access 2016 pipeline project.

Town Planning Board Chairman Walter D. Garrow said the approval followed changes in the design of the station, which should resulting in the destruction of a larger percentage of the toxic organic chemicals that come out of the ground along with the gas.

“We have worked very hard to align the design of this project to take into account concerns from elected officials, towns boards, planning boards and the public,” National Fuel spokeswoman Karen L. Merkel said.

The compressor project has drawn opposition at every public meeting in Wheatfield and Pendleton since it was announced, with the main objections being possible pollution, noise and the risk of explosion.

Garrow saluted the town residents who picked up on that issue. “At our pressure, National Fuel-Empire Pipeline has designed the burner,” he said. “We gave the public praise and recognition for raising these concerns.”

The company is seeking a federal permit to construct expanded pipelines leading from the hydrofracking fields of McKean County, Pa., through four Western New York counties to link up with the Trans-Canada Pipeline under the Niagara River. The purpose of the $455 million project is to export fracked gas to Canada.

Although the route also includes part of Erie, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties, the project has run into the loudest public opposition in Niagara County, where National Fuel’s Empire Pipeline subsidiary seeks to build new facilities.

Existing pipelines in Pendleton would be extended by two miles, and two large compressors to push the gas along, totaling 22,000 horsepower, would be installed on land now owned by the Tonawanda Sportsmen’s Club on Killian Road.

In Wheatfield, National Fuel’s plan to construct a dehydration station on Liberty Drive was unanimously approved by the Planning Board Wednesday.

The purpose of the station is to burn off excess water vapor in the gas, because Canadian regulators require “drier” gas than U.S. rules allow. But along with the water vapor comes the risk of emitting hazardous chemicals such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene.

The original National Fuel design called for burning off 99 percent of the organic chemicals. A revised design called for keeping the vapor in the burner longer and at higher temperatures, topping 1,400 degrees. The result will be thermal destruction of at least 99.5 percent of the chemicals, and Garrow said the percentage destroyed is more likely to reach 99.995 percent.

Also, the burner will have an automatic shutdown triggered by any malfunction, Garrow said. “Nobody has to be watching. Nobody has to manually intercede,” he said.

Garrow said the new design was included in the site plan the Planning Board approved, so he expects it to be part of the final permit National Fuel seeks from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. “FERC requires them to comply with site plan requirements,” Garrow said.

The Pendleton Planning Board held a public hearing Tuesday on the site plan for the compressor station, but took no vote.

FERC announced in July that it found no significant environmental impact from the Northern Access project. Wednesday, FERC responded to a Buffalo News request for comment by citing court decisions that say that while FERC encourages cooperation between gas companies and local officials, the commission can override any adverse votes by local governments on gas infrastructure projects.


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