The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

World, nation, state

January 27, 2014

Some groups, residents question fast-tracking permit requests

COLUMBUS — Some environmental groups and eastern Ohio residents say the state is hurrying permits for gas processing plants amid the shale drilling boom.

They say fast-tracking some permit requests and trying too hard to help the operations prevent close examination of local concerns about air and water pollution from refineries and the fracking process that frees the gas.  Ohio Environmental Council lobbyist Jack Shaner said the state is putting the industry over its concerned citizens.

“Ohio has bent over backward to accommodate this industry and run roughshod over citizen rights to know and comment on the impact to their air and water quality,” he said.

The Columbus Dispatch reports that demands for a public hearing in Mahoning County on a processing plant permit application last year were rejected by officials trying to avoid lengthy delays. Instead, the company got its permit in about four months. The Dispatch also reported Sunday that Ohio Environment Protection Agency emails and documents show that the regulators stay aware of company construction schedules as they handle permit requests.

State environmental officials say they are taking the right steps to protect residents and the environment. Operations with major pollution issues undergo much more scrutiny, The Dispatch reported.

“If it goes through our process, we don’t think there is going to be any type of health issue associated with it,” said Mike Hopkins, assistant chief of air permitting for the Ohio EPA.

Those projects identified as major pollution sources can take months, even years, of review because of public comment requirements, responses, and federal review.

With the shale drilling offering cheaper energy supplies and regional economic boosts, gas-processing companies are moving to add capacity. They “are now in a race to keep ahead of the drilling activity and put the (processing) in place,” said Tom Stewart, vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association.

The NiSource plant that The Dispatch reported about is a $375 million project on 95 acres near the Pennsylvania border that will be able to refine enough natural gas in one day to fuel nearly 2,800 homes for a year. The Hickory Bend processing plant was considered a minor-source polluter and the Ohio EPA decided that an informational meeting, rather than a full public hearing, was called for. The permit was approved two weeks after the meeting.

Bob Orr, a Springfield Township trustee, said the Hickory Bend plant is bringing good-pay jobs into the region, and he doesn’t believe there are major pollution or safety risks.

“We’ve been hard-pressed for jobs here for a long time,” Orr said. “We’ve had over 200 contractors a day working there over the last year, and the average pay is $32 an hour.”

Critics say that as more minor-source operations are permitted, their combined output will worsen overall air quality.

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