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Groups opposing Mountaineer NGL storage

PLANS FOR a Mountaineer Natural Gas Liquids Storage facility near the Ohio River in Monroe County are raising fears of pollution and long-term damage to the area and its people.

A virtual meeting was held Thursday evening in which environmental groups shared information and comments, with the overall goal of telling the public to reach out to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources during a 30-day comment period that ends Feb. 6.

PTT Global Chemical America has reached an agreement with Mountaineer NGL, which intends to use salt caverns to store liquid components of the local natural gas stream, such as ethane, underground. That ethane would serve as feedstock for a PTTGCA ethane cracker plant if it is built as proposed a few miles to the north. A final investment decision about the cracker has been postponed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The meeting was hosted by groups including Concerned Ohio River Residents, the Buckeye Environmental Network, The Ohio River Valley Institute, the Freshwater Accountability Project, and EarthJustice. Barnesville resident Jill Hunkler outlined concerns about what the activists fear a storage facility could bring to the Ohio Valley.

“This facility would develop underground caverns for the storage of natural gas liquids,” she said. “These materials are highly flammable. Many have explosive compounds and are used in the petrochemical production. This site is very problematic.”

She pointed out the location is near Clarington in Monroe County and in close proximity to drinking water supplies. She said the facility would hold up to 3.25 million gallons of material.

“And stored adjacent to and potentially under the Ohio River and pose a significant threat to public health and the environment,” she said.

She described the process of drawing fresh water from the Ohio River to carve out the storage caverns, constructing a brine reservoir near the Ohio River.

“We fear brine from this reservoir could contaminate other sources of drinking water on the Ohio River, potentially compromising the drinking water for 5 million people,” she said.

She also said the proposed storage of carbon-free hydrogen at the facility could worsen climate change, since it would be manufactured using fossil fuels.

Hunkler also said permits for the storage facility do not take local geography and the area’s mining history into account, which they fear could contribute to an accident. Other fears include air pollutants and “entrenchment” of a fracking-based economy.

Alex Cole, member of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and a West Virginia resident, spoke about his experiences growing up in the area of the Kanawha River in West Virginia.

“The Kanawha River is polluted beyond repair,” he said. “This is what I don’t want to see on the Ohio. … I’m no expert, but I’ve experienced this firsthand.”

Cole showed videos of the process of forming a casing around such caverns, expressing concerns that the casing could fail.

Speakers referenced past accidents and incidents surrounding similar operations, including the Bayou Corne sinkhole in Assumption Parish Louisiana in 2012, the Aliso Canyon Methane Leak in Los Angeles in 2016, the Hutchinson natural gas explosion in Kansas in 2001, and closer to home the XTO well pad explosion near Captina Creek in 2018. In comparing these situations to the proposed Mountaineer operation, they expressed fears of potential cracks in the well casing and concerns that the caverns might collapse.

“They want to really make you think that this is safe, but as you’re going to see, there are a lot of things that can go wrong,” Cole said, also referring to the proposed saltwater lake.

Megan Hunter, staff attorney with EarthJustice, said the 30-day period for public comment to ODNR ends Feb. 6 and the agency can be reached at oilandgas@dnr.ohio.gov or by calling 614-265-6937. A form letter can be found online at bit.ly/MountaineerNGL.

“We want to make sure that ODNR is considering the ultimate purpose of these wells when they are going through the permitting process and not just treating this like a salt mine,” Hunter said. She said the groups are also requesting an extension of the comment period in consideration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the speakers was Travis London of Louisiana, who shared his experiences living in highly polluted areas, including the presence of plastic pollutants, adding he believed this could increase susceptibility to the COVID-19 pandemic.

They also referred to an upcoming economic impact study from the Ohio River Valley Institute, which they said would suggest job creation and economic development in the area associated with fracking and plastics will not benefit the region in terms of jobs and population.

After the session, Mike Chadsey, director of public relations with the Ohio Oil & Gas Association which advocates for the industry, said many of these fears were unfounded.

“They’re trying to use fear, uncertainty and doubt to stop economic progress,” Chadsey said. “Most folks don’t know the difference between ethane storage and some of the other projects they brought up this evening, which clearly have nothing to do with ethane storage. That’s why the permit process with ODNR exists. They have to prove everything they do is safe and well-regulated and can be inspected.”

Ethane is one component of the Eastern Ohio “wet” natural gas stream, which includes methane, the gas commonly used for cooking and heating homes; propane, also used for home heating, cooking and grilling; butane, which can be petrochemical feedstock or blended with propane or gasoline; and other components to varying degrees. Ethane, according to the U.S Energy Information Administration, is often broken down into simpler ethylene molecules that are used to manufacture plastic bags, other plastics, textiles and chemicals such as antifreeze and detergents. Sometimes it is left in the methane stream, serving to boost the heating potential of that gas, so it already is consumed by natural gas customers across the nation.

Chadsey said the cracker plant the storage site would support would generate significant employment and tax dollars for the Shadyside Local School District through production of useful plastic projects. He said the cracker plant site was also carefully chosen to maximize safety.

“No dart was thrown on a map,” he said. “Geological studies were done.”

A recording of the meeting itself can be viewed at bit.ly/MountaineerVideo.

NGL Storage Project Facts, as provided by Dan Williamson of Paul Werth Associates public relations, Columbus, Ohio:

• Powhatan Salt Company will be mining salt from the Salina formation more than a mile underground.

• The drilling program of Powhatan Salt Company, as required by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, far exceeds industry standards for typical solution mining operation in Ohio.

• The 3-5 acre caverns eventually created well below the Marcellus shale, will be impermeable, keeping the ground water and land safe and clean.

• The Powhatan solution mining operations will use the most environmentally safe solution that exists today for brine disposal in the Ohio River basin.

• Mountaineer NGL Storage LLC will acquire the caverns after they’ve reached a safe and usable size for bulk storage operations.

• Mountaineer has chosen salt as the storage medium because it is the safest and most environmentally sound means of large-scale hydrocarbon storage.

• More than a billion barrels of liquid hydrocarbons are safely stored in salt in facilities throughout the country.

• By way of example, there is a salt cavern facility storing natural gas liquids in a Canton, Ohio neighborhood which has been operated safely and successfully for more than 30 years

• No storage is proposed under the Ohio River and a significant amount of time and money has been invested on cavern design safety based on work performed on salt cores from the Mountaineer test well.

• The rare explosions that have occurred predominately involve high-pressure natural gas typically stored in depleted oil and gas reservoirs.

• Liquid hydrocarbons stored in salt caverns operate at lithostatic pressure, the exact pressure of the surrounding rock.

• The Mountaineer project is a key link in the creation of new manufacturing jobs in the Ohio River Valley.

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