Citizens fight proposed pipeline: An environmental nightmare in their own backyards

Julia Scheib
News Writer

Three weeks ago, Mark and Melinda Clatterbuck of Holtwood, PA heard an unexpected knock at their door.

It was a field agent hired by Williams Partners, an energy company based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He asked if he could survey their property, which runs along the Tucquan Creek and is bordered by land owned by the Lancaster County Conservancy, for a pipeline that would transport natural gas from a pipeline in the northern Pennsylvania shalefields to another pipeline in southern Lancaster County.

The gas would not come here to provide Lancaster with cheap energy—it would instead be sold mainly to companies overseas—but if the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approves the Williams Partners’ request, residents of Drumore, Martic, Conestoga, Manor, West Hempfield, East Donegal, and Mount Joy Townships will be forced to either settle with the company or surrender their land for the company’s use under the law of eminent domain.

“We of course said no,” said Mark Clatterbuck.

The couple was told by the agent that the pipeline slated to go through their property would be a part of an existing project.

A map of the proposed pipeline.
A map of the proposed pipeline.
They later found this was false: Williams Partners has called the 122-mile pipeline a “shortcut,” a more direct route down through the state. It would save the company transport costs and provide space to store excess gas.

This shortcut, called the Central Penn Line, would have profound effects on the area even if the company does everything “right” when it comes to safety. And Williams Partners has a bad track record on safety: since 2000, the company has had at least nine confirmed incidents of pipeline ruptures, failures and explosions.

The pipeline would be 3.5 feet in diameter. Joseph Deinlein in the Central Penn Business Journal reported that it would transport up to 1.7 million dekatherms per day of natural gas. A dekatherm is a bit less than 1000 cubic feet, roughly equivalent to the amount of natural gas required to heat and fuel an average home for four days. It would run underground and would require a 125-foot construction zone, within which vegetation would need to be cleared.

After construction, a 50-foot swath would remain cleared above the pipeline—this is known as a right-of-way. This cleared swath would be unable to support the growth of plants for years to come because of the way in which the dirt must be compacted tightly around a pipeline during its construction to prevent slippage or leakage. This would adversely affect agriculture, woodlands, wildlife, and waterways in the area.

“It’s a permanent division in the woods,” said Mark Clatterbuck. “And of course after construction you have the threat of this toxic gas running through the land, for years to come.”

The Clatterbucks and others have put their lives on hold for the past several weeks because of their urgent concern over what the pipeline would do to their property (it would likely affect property values), the preserved lands and waterways they love, their livelihoods, their own health, and their drinking water.

“All of us in southern Lancaster have well water, so the threat of that being contaminated is a real concern,” Clatterbuck said. “It’s a 42” pipe under a lot of pressure, 1200-1500 pounds per square inch. It’s high-pressure and high-volume, so if there was a leak or an explosion it would be a real environmental catastrophe.”

Pequea resident Josh Miller (LEFT) enjoying a day at Tucquan Glen with two friends.
Pequea resident Josh Miller (LEFT) enjoying a day at Tucquan Glen with two friends.
For many residents of Lancaster County, the idea of a pipeline going through treasured preserved woodlands like Shenk’s Ferry, Fishing Creek, and Tucquan Glen is sacrilege.

But it’s not all about the landscape, and adverse health effects from environmental disasters transcend property lines.

Ryan Overly of the Shalefield Organizing Committee (SOC), which seeks to empower and protect the human rights—such as the rights to a healthy environment and clean water and air—of those impacted by the natural-gas industry, said that even if the company doesn’t cut corners with this project, it will have consequences that will likely hurt the quality of life of many Lancastrians.

Leaks or explosions could hurt the groundwater; another likelihood is air pollution.

The gas in the pipeline would have to be forced southward by powerful compressor stations around which leaks of toxic substances such as methane often occur, said Overly. The leaks cannot be detected by sight or smell, but can nonetheless do severe damage to people’s nerve and respiratory systems.

The Clatterbucks held a public information session last Monday at Mt. Nebo United Methodist Church in Pequea. Although it was planned only a week in advance, over 250 attended.

Josh and Emily Miller, siblings who live in Pequea, attended the meeting. They expressed frustration, bafflement and heartbreak over the proposed pipeline and the ways in which residents described their interactions with representatives of Williams Partners, who seem to be aiming for more than just a literal fracture of this beautiful area. “It seems like they’re not just trying to ruin the land, they’re trying to break up the community,” said Emily Miller.

Indeed, the company has been dishonest with friends and neighbors of the Clatterbucks. On his sixth or seventh visit to a neighbor’s house, a hired field agent received the sixth or seventh “no” in response to a request to survey the neighbor’s land. This time, he told the neighbor that everyone around him had agreed to have the survey done.

“They signed and talked to neighbors afterwards and found out that none of their neighbors had signed,” said Clatterbuck.

Do citizens have any say about whether or not this pipeline will be built?

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will be accepting comments from the public to aid them during their decision-making process about whether to accept or reject the Williams Partners’ proposal.

Citizens can go to FERC.gov and click the “Documents and Filings” tab, go to eComment and follow the directions to register with the site, and submit a comment. More information about the project, its probable impacts and how to fight it can be found at lancasterconservancy.org

Citizens can also attend a fundraiser hosted by the SOC at Tellus360, which is on King Street in downtown Lancaster. The event, called “Don’t Go Fracking My Heart,” will be held this Saturday, April 26. There will be music, an art auction, and a chance to discuss the pipeline with others.