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 Post subject: River concerns surface about pipeline
PostPosted: Mon Mar 09, 2015 7:21 pm 
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Location: Anthracite Region of PA
River concerns surface about pipeline


BY Elizabeth Skrapits, Staff Writer

Published: March 9, 2015

As it winds its way through Luzerne County, the proposed PennEast natural gas pipeline would go under the river — the flood-prone, undermined Susquehanna River.

“We mentioned to them that they (PennEast) really, seriously need to take a look at this,” said Robert E. Hughes, executive director of the Eastern PA Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation.

“We want to make it known they should consider the underground workings. Even people in the Valley forget how extensively mined this area was.”

PennEast Pipeline Co. LLC, a joint venture among UGI Energy Services, AGL Resources, New Jersey Resources, Public Service Enterprise Group and South Jersey Industries, plans to build a $1 billion, 108-mile, 36-inch diameter pipeline from Dallas Township to Mercer County, New Jersey. PennEast spokeswoman Patricia Kornick said the company is looking at all the factors to ensure the pipeline takes the best possible route.

Kornick said PennEast has hired teams of specialists including geologists, engineers and environmental scientists, to do studies as part of its due diligence.

“This is a major investment in the region, not simply for the company, and we are committed to doing the right thing,” she said. “This is not something we take lightly.”

In Luzerne County, the PennEast pipeline will start at an existing connection with the Transco interstate pipeline off Hildebrandt Road in Dallas Township, then cross into Kingston Township, through West Wyoming and Wyoming boroughs, under the Susquehanna River and Monocanock Island and into Jenkins and Plains townships.

As a Wyoming Valley native, Hughes knows the Susquehanna River well, from experiencing the catastrophic 1972 Tropical Storm Agnes flood to studying the Jan. 22, 1959 Knox Mine Disaster in the Port Griffiths section of Jenkins Township. In fact, he said, the proposed pipeline route runs just two miles south of the site where the river inundated the Knox mine, killing 12 miners and putting an end to deep coal mining in the region.

Hughes spoke up at a

Feb. 12 open house in Wilkes-Barre with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — which approves pipeline routes — and wrote a letter to the commission to emphasize the potential danger of what lies underground.

The depth of the pipeline is crucial. The top 100 feet beneath the river consists of alluvial material — rock, sand and coarse gravel. If PennEast doesn’t go deep enough, the pressure of the water, particularly during a flood, could wreak havoc with the pipeline. If PennEast goes too deep, there is the danger of hitting the abandoned mines, which can be extremely unstable.

If PennEast runs the pipeline into the mine workings and there is a subsidence or collapse, and there is a weak point in the pipeline, Hughes wondered if the pipeline could explode. He also pointed out the unknown chemistry in the water pooled in the abandoned mines. It could be very acidic and have corrosive potential for the pipeline, he said.

One problem is that mine mapping in the region is incomplete. In some cases, maps don’t even exist: Coal operators went “wildcatting,” mining in areas without properly documenting what they were doing.

Related to Hughes’ concerns is whether the pipeline will affect the levees.

In a Jan. 28 letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority executive director Christopher J. Belleman notes that more than $7.6 billion in damages has been avoided since 1968 because of the Wyoming Valley Flood Protection System.

The letter notes that on an Oct. 23, 2014 map, “the proposed route indicates that the pipeline will be sited approximately parallel to and immediately north of the Authority’s existing flood protection system in West Wyoming and Wyoming boroughs. Specifically, the pipeline will be routed adjacent to our flood protection system approximately between Mile Post 5.5 (near Shoemaker Avenue) and Mile Post 7 (near Monocanock Island, Susquehanna River).”

Although the pipeline route in the preliminary plans “does not appear to intersect or interfere with the Authority’s flood control facilities, operations or flood fighting activities,” the letter notes that “The Authority will vigorously challenge any proposed pipeline route that will interfere with our operation of the flood control system and possibly increase the risk of flooding in the Wyoming Valley.”

The current pipeline route is not engraved in stone. Nothing has been finalized; in fact, now is the time for input, Kornick said. PennEast is looking at all its options and will continue to do so until submitting its application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, likely in July.

As part of the information-gathering process, PennEast has been taking surveys, investigating the qualities of soil and rock, talking with landowners and working with local, state and federal agencies, Kornick said. She estimates company representatives have met with more than 2,000 people in the six months since announcing the project. When residents have concerns — they’ve lived in the area, they’ve witnessed things — those concerns bear checking out. The feedback helps to define the route, Kornick said.

All the information collected is submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which will take about a year to make its decision.

In the meantime, Hughes is trying to arrange a meeting with PennEast representatives, to offer the coalition’s assistance.

He stressed that he is not trying to be a “doomsayer,” but there is a certain amount of risk involved in drilling in a potentially mined-out area under a flood-prone river, and the coalition is looking to keep the community safe.



eskrapits@citizensvoice.com, 570-821-2072

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