By David Cruz
Residents in Franklin Township, South Brunswick and surrounding communities in Somerset County are racing against the clock to have their objections to a proposed natural gas compressor station heard. They say the proposed site — a 52-acre tract near a rock quarry — is right in the middle of a residential community and would produce loud noise, air and water pollution and, they fear, worse.
“The compressor station is a huge engine. In the case of the proposed Franklin Township compressor station, it’ll be running on natural gas, methane and it produces all kinds of VOCs — volatile organic compounds — and other debris and particulate matter that could also cause all kinds of health problems for lungs and cancer,” warned Franklin Township resident Ed Potosnak, who is also executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters. “It’s a real issue. They’re loud and they’re proposing three of them on this site.”
The company says that the station itself takes up only about six acres of the land. “Most of that land will be left wooded as a buffer, and, at the end of the day, our goal is that that facility, that people are not going to be able to see it; they’re not going to be able to hear it,” said Williams Companies Spokesman Chris Stockton. “They’re really not going to even know it’s there. The same thing as the existing pipeline. When we were doing our public meetings, people didn’t even realize that the existing pipeline was even there.”
Those public meetings brought out concerned residents, citing past safety violations and accidents at the company’s other facilities around the country. The company says it’s done its due diligence and met with residents and officials in an effort to ease concerns.
The station would act a lot like an electrical transformer, essentially pushing the natural gas north to 1.8 million customers — in Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island. And that is also part of the objection.
“We get all of the risks without any of the benefits,” said Potosnak.
South Brunswick Councilman Joe Camarota has been leading the fight against the station in his town. “I think the most egregious issue, at least from my laymen’s perspective, is that this is an active mining drilling site. It’s on a quarry, trap rock quarry. They’re still actively mining and blasting,” he said. “There’s also a firing range right around there also.”
A recipe for disaster, says Camarota, at a site where access by emergency personnel would be limited and escape for residents would be on a road that leads right into a blast zone. Alarming. And alarmist, say reps for Oklahoma-based Williams Companies, which operates the TransCo pipeline, 500 miles of which are running under the state right now. The company says they’ve been operating here for years with no problems, but Williams has had a spotty safety record, paying fines for failing to inspect facilities in some cases and was blamed for not properly training employees after explosions at a facility in Washington state.
“I can say that we’ve operated compressor facilities for decades,” said Stockton. “Compressor facilities are safe. We have a long history of operating facilities safely and I think it’s also important to distinguish the compressor facilities that we operate are what’s called interstate transmission compressor facilities. They’re regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and that not all compressor facilities are all the same. And there may be other facilities that are not held to the same high standard as we do.”
Residents have until Thursday of this week to register as intervenors with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, giving them a voice in the process going forward. Even though the surrounding towns and the county have passed resolutions against the station, the final decision is out of their hands, which is why residents are calling on their neighbors to join their fight.