Company reps get an earful of opposition to compressor project

By JENNIFER AMATO
Staff Writer

SOUTH BRUNSWICK — Members of the public and township are vehemently opposed to a proposed compressor project slated for nearby Franklin Township.

And they made sure representatives of the Williams Companies knew of their disapproval.

Several experts visited the township on July 12 during the council’s workshop meeting to be greeted by dozens of residents who could be affected by the construction of a 32,000-horsepower gas compression station at the intersection of Promenade Boulevard and Route 27 that lies within a half mile of 1,000 South Brunswick residences.

“This is a big township, and I think there are areas better suited and not affecting the quality of life of residents who have lived here for years,” Mayor Frank Gambatese said to an applauding crowd.

Williams owns and operates a natural gas transmission pipeline known as the Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company (Transco), which transports natural gas from natural gas production areas to utility companies and power plants throughout the northeastern and southeastern United States.

According to Megan Stafford, public outreach business partner for Williams, Williams touches 20 percent of all natural gas in the United States, delivers 10 percent of all natural gas consumed in the United States and has been transporting 60 percent of natural gas in New Jersey for more than 60 years.

What was 1,500 miles of pipeline from the Gulf of Mexico to Manhattan has expanded to 10,000 miles with 56 compressor stations along the eastern seaboard, she said.

The pipeline of 552 miles in New Jersey delivers gas to five stations including Old Bridge, Carlstadt and Neshanic Station in order to power two million homes. Williams does not own the gas, but contracts with PSE&G, New Jersey Natural Gas and Elizabethtown Gas.

“There are New Jersey customers benefiting from our systems as they exist today,” project manager Brian Ham said.

Williams is in the preliminary stages of developing the Northeast Supply Enhancement Project to add 400,000 dekatherms per day of additional natural gas transportation capacity, scheduled for service in the winter of 2019. The project is necessitated by National Grid, which will be distributing 400 million cubic feet of gas per day to millions of its customers. The National Grid pipelines run from Pennsylvania through New Jersey to New York, where more accessibility is needed due to an increase of population and businesses in Brooklyn and Queens, according to Stafford.

Ham also said because of damage from superstorm Sandy in 2012, the system is converting from heating oils to natural gas.

“So, New York is getting the greater benefit of this facility, yet we have it in a residential area in New Jersey,” Gambatese said. “Let’s get it as far away from South Brunswick as we possibly can.”

The land being sought for the project is currently owned by Trap Rock, a quarry in nearby Somerset County, which determined the parcels of land it was willing to sell, Ham said.

Two of the four locations being considered were discredited due to wetlands and space concerns. Option A being considered is a 36-acre lot with frontage on Route 27. Option B being considered is more toward the north and east adjacent to an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site.

The proposed compressors would be fully enclosed in a sound-attenuating building, according to Russell Markowski, operations manager for Williams Companies. Fifteen acres would be cleared for the six-acre property surrounded by a buffer of trees. Two gas fire turbines would be located inside an 80-foot-by-120-foot building, and there would be additional smaller buildings containing power controls, offices, drum storage and telecommunications as well as a communication tower.

The facility would be staffed from 7 a.m.-3:30 p.m. weekdays, though the site would be monitored 24/7 from headquarters in Houston, Texas, he said.

Markowski said there are pressure-relief valves, emergency shutdowns, fire control and backup mechanical controls that can be remotely accessed.

However, the proximity of the property to 377 single-family homes and townhomes in the Princeton Walk development, 100 individual homes in the Preserves and 198 townhomes at the Woods at Princeton Walk is the resounding concern of neighbors because of safety and noise issues.

A controlled release of natural gas, called a blowdown, releases methane into the atmosphere and could occur a few times a year for maintenance on the unit or perhaps about once a year on the entire system, Markowski said, which caused concern about environmental and sound hazards.

“Sometimes my whole building shakes,” Councilwoman Josephine Hochman, a resident of Princeton Walk, said of the current operations at Trap Rock aside from any new activity due to the compressor stations. “Sometimes my pictures are moved and I have to go around and fix them. Sometimes things fall off the walls. … We’re not going to know anything about what the sound is going to be like until this site is up and running. … If paintings in my house are moving, what’s going to happen to the pipeline when an exorbitant amount of dynamite is used?”

Markowski said there will be nine inches of sound-buffering insulation inside the buildings and that the maximum level of sound will be 55 decibels at the fence line. He said Williams will conduct pre-construction and post-construction sound surveys and mitigate any issues.

“Ambient noise outside of the blasting is a nuisance already,” Councilman Charlie Carley said.

“Fifty-five decibels is the level of speech from me to you. Everyone says it’s going to maintain and it never happens,” Gambatese said to a round of applause.

Resident Jeremy Pollack said he sat across from Trap Rock with a decibel meter to measure the current sound, and he measured 95 decibels at peak levels and an average of 90 decibels in a period of five minutes. He said the noise is not necessarily from the blasting, but from trucks and equipment.

Residents also fear for their safety, as the compression stations will be within 200 feet of the dynamite blasting conducted by Trap Rock. However, Markowski said the pipelines have been on the property since the 1950s without incident.

“Adding a compressor station does not add any additional risk to the pipeline,” Ham said.

Several residents also spoke of chronic sore throats, nosebleeds, other ailments and even cancer that can result from nearby compressor stations leaking chemicals such as formaldehyde, although members of Williams highly discredited those accusations.

Markowski also clarified misinformation regarding an explosion in Branchburg in 2013, which he said was the result of a demolition job outside of the compressor station that was handled by an outside contractor; he said two people, not the reported 13, were injured as per the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration).

Williams’ representatives reiterated throughout the night that the company is in the very early stages of its application process, which could take three years. The pre-filing stage is open to the public, followed by scoping meetings, a formal application, environmental impact reports and a final approval or denial by FERC. A formal application should be submitted in the spring, with buildout beginning in the summer of 2018 if approval is granted. The station could be operational by the winter heating season of 2019.

Gambatese invited members from Williams to return to the South Brunswick since several questions went unanswered, such as what the upside will be for South Brunswick, how many residents in South Brunswick receive gas from the Transco pipeline, what exactly the urea substrate used to treat the system is, what investments the company is willing to make in the township, if the company has to follow municipal ordinances and permits, how often sound and environmental sampling will be done, the instrument used for air monitoring and how transparent Williams will be about the entire process.

In the meantime, a group of volunteers from Princeton Walk has started a petition at www.stoptranscocompressor.org. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/Stop-Compression-Gas-Station-near-South-Brunswick-New-Jersey-1041796122569098/.

Comments may also be directed to FERC at www.ferc.gov/docs-filing/ferconline.asp.

Contact Jennifer Amato at jamato@gmnews.com.