Our Lady of Hope retreat center in New Ipswich worries noise that could be generated by a proposed pipeline compressor station across the street could disrupt its mission. (Meghan Pierce/Union Leader Correspondent)
Neighbors bemoan pipeline compressor station would force them to move
NEW IPSWICH - If a 41,000-horsepower natural gas pipeline compressor station is built on a 200-acre spot in New Ipswich, a family of five says they will walk away from their home of 14 years, the owner of a farm for Newfoundland ponies says she would also have no choice but to leave, and Catholic nuns who run a retreat don't know what they'll do.
Kinder Morgan is the parent company of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company LLC, which is proposing the Northeast Energy Direct Project that would extend an existing natural gas pipeline across southern New Hampshire.
Compressor stations are needed along the way to provide pressure to keep the natural gas moving. Nine new compressor stations are being proposed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) as part of the pipeline expansion.
About 80 miles of the pipeline is being proposed to run through New Hampshire from Winchester and going east across the state, exiting back into Massachusetts near Pelham. After much speculation, Kinder Morgan announced on June 1 that an 80,000-horsepower compressor was being proposed for a wooded lot in New Ipswich between Temple Road and Route 45.
On Thursday, Kinder Morgan announced the scope of the project was being adjusted from a 36-inch diameter pipe to a 30-inch pipe, making planned compression stations smaller, as well.
The 30-inch configuration changes compressor station requirements, said Allen Fore, vice president of public affairs for Kinder Morgan.
The compressor station targeted for New Ipswich is now configured at 80,000 horsepower, based on a 36-inch pipeline, but a 30-inch pipeline would require a 41,000-horsepower compressor.
"We're probably going to need the same acreage for the site," Fore said. "The buildings will be smaller, but the actual footprint of the area that we own for the compressor station is much larger than the building itself, and that would probably remain the same."
Despite the downsizing, the compressor station would still be significantly larger than the only other compressor station in New Hampshire, which is a 6,100-horsepower compressor station in Pelham.
"We're directly across the street from the proposed site," said Sebastian Barthelmess of Temple Road. "Quite frankly, when we first heard about this, we kind of brushed it off. Not in the water district and not our rural area here. . it's such a protected area."
Barthelmess and his wife, Rebecca, moved to New Ipswich from the Boston area 14 years ago.
Over the years, they have built their dream home and created an adventure-filled backyard for their three sons, which includes a pool, a club house and an Indiana Jones-style rope bridge.
Barthelmess taps maple trees and makes his own maple syrup in his sugar shack; Rebecca keeps bees.
There have been many sacrifices along the way, he said. When they first moved to the country, Barthelmess continued to work in the Boston area. He is now able to work from home, he said.
They invested a lot into the home, the couple says, and now own it outright. They had hoped to sell it one day to pay for their children's college tuition. Now that hope might not come to pass, they said.
The value of their $300,000-plus home is going to drop significantly if the compressor station is built, he said.
The couple said they are shocked that a corporation can get approval for a large facility in such a small, rural area. Town zoning regulations would never allow such an industrial use of the property, they said.
"For a corporation to benefit and trump all the zoning laws the town has put up ... ." Barthelmess said.
Their greatest concern is for the health and safety of their family. They say they will walk away from their home if the compressor station is built.
The incineration zone
Opponents of the pipeline say anything within half a mile of a compressor station is in the incineration zone. For the proposed New Ipswich site, this includes the Barthelmess' home, Our Lady of Hope retreat center and the Temple Elementary School.
"The threat - the greatest concern for me is we are in the incineration zone," Barthelmess said.
If there were to be an explosion at the compressor station, it's the zone in which there would be no survivors, he said.
Kinder Morgan spokesman Richard Wheatley said he doesn't know where the term "incineration zone" came from, but said the map showing the proposed compressor station does outline an "identification boundary or zone."
This area is being studied for potential impacts, Wheatley said.
The results of the study would be part of a second environmental study of the project, which is expected to be filed with FERC later this summer.
"We're identifying environmental issues," he said, including threatened and endangered species, water bodies and any land or surface concerns," Wheatley said.
In October, Kinder Morgan plans to apply for a certificate of filing from FERC, he said.
The proximity of a compressor station to homes, businesses, schools, hospitals and nursing homes is also assessed during this process, Wheatley said.
"We understand the concerns and certainly issues related to noise, potential problems with emissions, sight-line concerns. Of course, all are going to be addressed as we move forward," he said.
Barthelmess said he wasn't paying much attention to the pipeline issue until he was recently told about the compressor station.
While trying to decipher fact from fiction, Barthelmess said, one thing is certain: Kinder Morgan has not been entirely forthcoming about the proposed compressor station site other than to call neighboorhood fears unfounded.
"The risks are real. To say that there's no risk is untrue," he said. "We're not experts. We are just townsfolk. . I'm trying to separate the truth and exaggerations. I'm also trying to sift through the mistruths from Kinder Morgan."
Like the Barthelmess family, Temple Fire Chief George Clark is working to find answers about what it means that the town's elementary school could end up in an "incineration zone."
Temple Elementary School
Temple Elementary School has about 55 students, he said. The building is also the town's designated emergency shelter.
If there was any kind of incident at the compressor station, the school would have to be evacuated. The school's buses, though, are 30 minutes away in Peterborough, he said. Upset parents have already told Clark they would drive into the evacuation area against his orders to get their children at the school in that instance.
People don't know what to believe, he said.
In response to the proposed compressor station, the town has formed a committee to research the issue. Clark said he wonders how his all-volunteer department could handle an explosion at a compressor station. Special equipment and training would be needed, he said.
According to federal regulations, a compressor station is limited to 55 decibels of noise, which has been described as the sound of an air conditioner, Rebecca Barthelmess said.
However, compressor stations need to conduct blowdowns periodically to release pressure.
There are no federal regulations for blowdowns, which can reach anywhere between 90 to 120 decibels, the Barthelmesses said.
The couple directs people to hear the sound of a blowdown on a YouTube video of a 25-horsepower compressor station that, reaching more than 90 decibels, "sounds like a jet engine taking off in your yard," Rebecca Barthelmess said. "It's deafening."
Next door to the Barthelmesses' is a retreat center - The Sisters of Our Lady of Hope House of Prayer. The center is run by the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary.
"Noise level would definitely affect our effectiveness as a house of prayer since we advertise as a place of serenity and quiet conducive to prayer, reflection and rest," said Sister Rita Pay of the retreat center in an email.
Pay also said "damage done to the environment, especially to our wells," is a concern.
The proposed compressor station would be situated between two watersheds.
Pay said the retreat is also concerned with the "proximity to an elementary school - a half mile away from the proposed compressor site."
"As for what will happen to our retreat center should the pipeline go through this area, it's still too soon to tell," Pay said.
Wheatley said he doesn't know the FERC limits on blowdown decibel levels, but said the events rarely happen.
Concerns for environment
Emily Chetkowski owns and runs Villi Poni Farm on Greenville Road in New Ipswich. The pony farm is home to 10 of only 250 Newfoundland ponies in the world.
"There's 34 in the United States, and we have 10 now," Chetkowski said.
Chetkowski said she is downwind of the proposed compressor station site and fears chemicals that could be emitted into the air and groundwater from a compressor station.
"We have a dug well - they (the ponies) are the most susceptible to airborne toxins," she said.
Chetkowski cited a 2012 Cornell University study that said livestock death and infertility has been reported in studies of land around compressor stations.
With the proposed compressor station site less than a mile away from the pony farm, Chetkowski said plans for her breeding program are on hold.
"I can't risk it," she said. "I can't have pregnant mares with that going on."
Additionally, if there is an incident at the compressor station, the farm has no way of evacuating all of the ponies. Chetkowski said if the compressor station is built, she and the ponies will move away.
"The thing is, who is going to buy this place," she said.
Wheatley said other than the occasional release of some methane gas, the compressor station would not emit anything.
The methane gas transported through the pipeline would be processed to be "pipeline quality methane gas," Wheatley said.
"We can reject gas coming into the system and have," Wheatley said.
David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany in New York, has studied air pollution at compressor stations in states where fracking takes place. He said air pollution at compressor stations is often more toxic than the air pollution at fracking sites.
The activity at the compressor station produces toxic chemicals, he said, such as formaldehyde and benzene.
"Formaldehyde is formed from the action of sunlight on methane," Carpenter said. "The activities of a compressor station have caused the formation of formaldehyde."
The chemicals can also leak into the ground, he said.
People living near compressor stations have experienced respiratory infections, coughs, sore throats, headaches and neurological problems.
"All of these chemicals are neurotoxins," Carpenter said.
He said his biggest concern is the long-term and elevated risk of cancer over time.
Letters asking federal and state officials for help are not getting the desired reaction, Chetkowski said. "We're getting form letters. We're getting no response."
Sebastian Barthelmess said he is disappointed that Gov. Maggie Hassan has not come to the town's defense. It was the governor of Massachusetts who spoke out against a proposed compressor station in Groton, Mass., and that is why the route of the proposed pipeline was moved out of rural western Massachusetts and into rural southern New Hampshire, he said.
"It was stopped in Groton because the town reacted quickly and the governor stepped in and pushed it out," Barthelmess said.
Now, elected officials are remaining neutral and FERC has approved 95 percent of the projects filed with it, Barthelmess said.
"The very same government that approved our mission statement and our 501(c)3 (nonprofit status) is now our danger," Chetkowski said.
In a letter to FERC on Thursday, Hassan called for more meetings, including one in New Ipswich.
"The commission's current plan, to hold only three such meetings, and none in locations along the middle of the proposed route, will not provide adequate opportunity for our citizens to learn and provide input about a project that has a potentially critical impact on the state's economy and environment," Hassan wrote in the letter. "Given the significance of this project to the people along the project's route, additional meetings - providing a choice of locations and times - will afford more meaningful access for our people. In addition, there appears to be no plan for a meeting in New Ipswich, New Hampshire - the proposed location of one of the NED Project's compressor stations."
FERC will hold a meeting about the project in Milford Town Hall on July 30 at 6:30 p.m.