Williams is planning to build two new compressor stations in eastern Pennsylvania as part of its Leidy South Project (see Williams Planning 2 New, 2 Upgraded Compressor Stations in NEPA). One of the new compressor stations will get built in Luzerne County (Wilkes-Barre area), and the other in Schuylkill County (shares a border with Luzerne County, sort of in the Philadelphia orbit). A reporter from Schuylkill recently got an exclusive tour of an existing Williams compressor station similar to the one that will get built in Schuylkill. The reporter’s article is fascinating. It shows the reaction of someone who has an open mind about these kinds of projects.
Williams took the reporter on a tour of its Compressor Station 605 in Clinton Township in Wyoming County. The 21,000 horsepower station went online last October as part of the Atlantic Sunrise project.
In a blow-by-blow fashion, the reporter describes what she sees from the moment she arrived on site. We love some of the analogies she uses. The compressor itself is “the size of four couches pushed together into a rectangle.” You get the sense she is stunned by the amount of technology and sophistication and safety precautions built in. We know the feeling! Every time we go on such a tour we’re like kids in a candy store–eyes open wide, taking it all in. Ours is a marvelous, inventive, innovative industry.
The reporter goes on to say inside the building where the machinery operates, is loud. Really loud. But outside the building, just ten feet away, “only a low-level humming noise could be heard.”
The reporter followed up her tour by calling Wyoming County Commissioner Chairman Thomas S. Henry, who told her that Williams is “a wonderful neighbor” and “really great to work with.” You don’t read that kind of comment in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette or Scranton Times-Tribune.
By the end of the article, you can tell the reporter has had her eyes opened as to what a compressor station is, how it operates, and that all of the negative talk about what would happen if such a facility were to come to Schuylkill County are just that–negative talk with no basis in fact.
While Schuylkill County awaits a decision on Williams’ proposed natural gas compressor station here, the company obliged The Republican-Herald’s request for a tour of a Williams compressor station in Wyoming County.
Michael Atchie, managing director of project outreach, and Adam Brown, operations supervisor at the station, served as guides for the April 12 tour, for which fire retardant jumpsuits, goggles, hard hats and ear plugs were required.
Williams Compressor Station 605 is located a short 20-minute drive from Williams’ Midstream Field Office in Tunkhannock.
Leidy South Project
Williams completed the Atlantic Sunrise Project in Schuylkill County last fall and the proposed compressor station would be part of the Leidy South Project. The firm would like to build the station somewhere near Atlantic Sunrise’s Central Penn Line South, which feeds into the Transco pipeline in Lancaster.
Three options have been considered. Options A and B are on a 90-acre area in the Deep Creek Road and Bridge Road areas in Hegins Township; and option C is near the Westwood cogeneration plant on 83 acres in Frailey and, possibly, Porter townships. Compressor stations are usually built about every 50 miles along the pipeline route, according to Christopher L. Stockton, Williams spokesman.
Pennsylvania is the second largest natural gas producing state in the U.S., according to Williams’ website, but “insufficient pipeline infrastructure continues to limit consumer access to supply.” The Leidy South Project is Williams’ $500 million investment to use the existing Transco pipeline system to transport an additional 582 million cubic feet of natural gas per day.
Compressor Station 605
As of April 12, The Republican-Herald was the only media organization permitted to tour the 605 facility. Williams asked that the physical address not be reported as a safety precaution.
The property sits on a high hill in what was mostly an empty field.
Williams bid out the station construction to V.E.C., a union contractor based in Ohio. The main spreads, or construction zones, were done with union contracts including with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
Few people are needed to actually operate the station, since it is fully automated and continuously monitored. However, technicians monitor the facility every day.
On the Transco system, the company uses a numbering system for compressor stations. From Texas to New York, the number increases as the compressor stations come online.
Atchie explained how Williams midstream operations are those that gather and process natural gas operations that are part of the Marcellus shale industry.
“That’s one part of our businesses. The transmission is another part of our system,” he said.
Atchie said 605 was the preferred option location for the compressor station. Williams hired a local company to pave the access road to it.
“We did have a meeting with the first responders and had contact with people in the area. Not since we’ve been operating have we heard anything from any neighbors,” Atchie said. “We’ve been at the midstream field office for about four years. They know who we are and what we do. They have a greater knowledge about natural gas, and they’ve seen the benefits. Cabot’s (Cabot Oil & Gas) also has an office nearby. They’ve seen the jobs and the investments.”
Brown has been with Williams for eight years, formerly working at a midstream facility in Bradford County and at Williams’ gas turbine compressor station 517 in Orangeville, Columbia County. As operations supervisor, he oversees compliance and daily facility activities and maintenance. His brother, Josh Brown, is also employed by Williams as manager of projects in Tunkhannock.
There are seven employees at 605, including Brown. They work from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily, and also have employees on a night shift roving team.
The tour started at the perimeter of the 6.7-acre facility, with Brown and Atchie explaining the process. Along the way, they compared compressor station 605 with the proposed station 620 in Schuylkill County. Some of the characteristics highlighted included the size of the gas pipeline, the type of compressor, the physical footprint and outbuildings.
The 605 station is 21,000 horsepower and began operating in October. A 30-inch pipe, part of the Central Penn Line North, brings gas into the facility. Piping is gray and covered with insulation to dampen the noise.
The 31,871-horsepower compressor station planned in Schuylkill County would be fed by a 42-inch pipe from the Central Penn Line South. It would take up about 10 acres.
Entering the front of the 605 building, which houses the actual compressor, there is an Emergency Blow Down Station. Every compressor station site has one, according to Atchie, and it includes a switch with a red handle that, when pulled, will shut down the facility. It takes approximately nine minutes for all the gas in the facility to be evacuated once that red handle is yanked.
When natural gas is compressed, it gains pressure and, during that process, the gas heats up. The maximum allowable amount of pressure is 1,480 pounds, according to Brown.
One of the first components seen inside the main compressor building is Voith brand machinery, which operates like an automobile transmission would, adjusting the rpms of the compressor.
Further down the line, there is a panel of valves that measure pressure and temperature. All transmitter information goes back to a programmer or an HMI — human machine interface computer. The gas temperature must stay below 130 degrees at all times. If it reaches 135, the system shuts down.
The centrifugal compressor used at the 605 site is fed by electricity and is known as an “EMD,” electric motor drive compressor. It came from the Solar Turbines brand, a Caterpillar company. The compressor itself is about the size of four couches pushed together into a rectangle.
Instead of an electric-fed generator, the 620 station proposed in Schuylkill County would use a gas turbine system.
“A gas turbine is very similar to a jet engine found on an airplane except that instead of using the thrust to push the airplane, the jet turns a large fan to spin or rotate the compressor,” a Williams’ fact sheet explains.
After the gas has been compressed, it’s cooled by a series of fans. There are six 15- to 20-foot round electric fans that are used. They can cool the gas temperature by 30 to 40 degrees in a millisecond. Once the gas is cooled, it continues on its way through the pipeline and off the site, eventually to consumers.
Cooling fans would also be a part of the 620 station, with the number likely in the six to eight range.
There are several smaller outbuildings on the 605 property. One area contains the system’s odorant, mercaptan. Natural gas is odorless, colorless and tasteless, so mercaptan is added to the gas to detect potential leaks. It emits a rotten egg, sulphur smell.
Another building houses air compressors that are used to operate valves for the facility; another structure cools the oil that’s used for lubricating bearings. A 190-foot tall radio tower supplies the repeater for the company’s two-way hand-held and truck radios. The radio system is dedicated for Williams’ frequencies.
Some of the outbuildings related to electrical service would not be at the Schuylkill County site and the area for the mercaptan would also not be needed here, since the odorant will already be in the pipeline system before it gets into the county. The 620 site would also have a radio tower.
There’s a retaining pond located just off the driveway access to the 605 operation. The water in the retaining pond is strictly from rain runoff and is not involved in any way with the compression process. A retaining pond may also be part of the Schuylkill County site, depending on where it’s erected.
When standing at the 605 compressor station, no homes or businesses can be seen, just miles of mountainous views. There are a few homes a short distance from the driveway entrance at the bottom of the hill. The pole-type buildings are all uniformly covered with tan siding, and gray piping and stacks from the exhaust silencer can be seen rising from the ground.
Inside the main compressor building, voices need to be raised to be heard and ear protection is a must because it’s loud. Standing just 10 feet outside of the building, however, only a low-level humming noise could be heard.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission requires “noise impacts from normal operation at a compressor station must not exceed 55 decibels at the closest noise-sensitive areas, such as homes, businesses, parks and churches. The noise level is comparable to noise generated by a refrigerator or normal indoor conversation,” a fact sheet from Williams explains.
As for odor, only a faint smell of rotten eggs was detected at the compressor station site the day of the tour, but once outside the fenced perimeter, no odor could be detected.
At least once a year, the facility conducts a simulated test practicing what would occur in the event of an emergency.
Atchie said once the company gets a date for the shutdown test, neighbors within a half-mile radius are notified by letter. Wyoming County Emergency Management Agency is also alerted.
During the test, residents may not hear anything, but they may be able to smell mercaptan, according to Brown. That’s because all natural gas currently in the compressor station is evacuated and goes to a blowdown deodorizer that has carbon filters in it, and then up two blowdown silencers. The silencers can be seen outside as two tall, gray stacks. That’s how whatever gas is left in the compressor station is evacuated during the test. Employees would all meet outside the front gate in case of an actual emergency.
Wyoming County Commissioners Chairman Thomas S. Henry said in a phone interview that Williams has been a “wonderful neighbor.”
“They’ve been really great to work with. They’ve worked with our EMA and made sure that they’re up to par and have done nothing behind our back,” Henry said. “I believe in their safety.”
The commissioner attended the FERC scoping hearing when the 605 project was proposed and has seen the project go from concept to construction to fully operational.
Wyoming County is expected to received about $1 million from Act 13, according to Henry. Under Act 13, funds are distributed to local and state governments from the imposition of an unconventional gas well fee, or an impact fee.
In addition, “We’ve had two brand new hotels built in Tunkhannock and several restaurants,” he said.
“Part of the piece you don’t hear about is the workforce with these projects,” Atchie said. He said there were “several hundred” who worked on the construction of the 605 compressor station and “thousands” who worked on the Atlantic Sunrise Project. He said some workers were able to buy homes and new vehicles with the income earned.
A Williams grant helped build the Lazy Brook Park pavilion. Each September, the park hosts a barbecue cook-off that benefits the local United Way and includes a Williams match.
Williams sponsors a $20,000 scholarship to the Lackawanna College School of Petroleum and Natural Gas, and has hired employees from the college. The company offers an intern program each summer at a Williams facility.
Henry acknowledge that there are people who “do not agree with the gas industry.” However, he said he had not received any complaints about the 605 operation during construction or since. He did receive a couple of calls about the alarms when the company was having its annual test.
Henry said Williams helped the county during last year’s flooding and has been “very open and honest with us.”
“Anytime I’ve had a question about Williams, I’ve been able to call Mike Atchie and he takes care of it,” Henry said. “People from Williams come into our area all of the time when they were working on the lines. They’ve given us an economic boost. Everywhere you look, there’s a white (Williams) truck.”*
*Pottsville (PA) Republican Herald (Apr 21, 2019) – Williams grants tour of compressor station like one planned in Schuylkill County
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