Resident Press Release – June 12, 2013

6.12.13 Resident Press Release by Janet Engeman

Columbia Gas Sues State College over Penn State Pipeline

Penn State University and Columbia Gas tried to slide a plan under the radar to run a 12” 400 psi natural gas transmission pipeline 2.2 miles through a densely populated neighborhood of the adjacent town of State College, past homes, schools, and churches, without any meaningful consultation with the affected residents or institutions.

This pipeline would have endangered the community without any benefit to it, since its sole purpose is to get natural gas to a Penn State Power Plant that is to be converted to gas from coal. Not only would the pipeline run through a borough neighborhood rather than across University property, it would not adhere to reasonable gas industry setback recommendations. Nearly all of the properties along the route are less than fifty feet from this potential hazard, and even the smallest recommended setback is 65 feet, with other industry recommendations of 165 feet, especially for such a large, high pressure pipeline, and when homes, schools, churches, and other gathering places are involved.

Most of the community knew nothing of the plan until weeks before projected ground breaking in April.

After word was spread around the community by concerned citizens who learned about the project in mid-March, a Facebook page (Stop the Penn State Pipeline) was set up, and it included a petition demanding that the State College Borough Council stop the pipeline. The petition drew hundreds of signatures, national attention, and many indignant comments. There was a rising outrage from State College citizens, culminated by an overflow meeting of the Borough Council the evening of Monday, April 1st, at which citizens demanded that the Borough Council do its job by upholding the Community Bill of Rights that as part of the Borough Charter is law, and not issue the permit for work to begin.

Ultimately the Borough Manager did not issue the permit, and things went into a holding pattern, with Penn State and Columbia Gas announcing that they were considering alternate routes for the pipeline that would not go through State College neighborhoods.

Columbia Gas’ lawyers then issued an aggressive letter to the Borough requesting that in exchange for their rescinding their original permit request that the borough withdraw its denial, and everything would go back to square one.  The borough stood firm, out of concern that Columbia Gas would simply repeat its permit request for its original route, without any of the negative circumstances surrounding its original permit request.

Then on May 13th Columbia Gas sued the Borough of State College, and the Borough Manager.

Once again, borough residents were kept in the dark, and knew nothing about the suit until more than three weeks after it was filed.

This is a classic David and Goliath situation, complicated by the presence of Penn State as the customer of Columbia Gas. This pipeline plan was initiated by and is the legacy of former Penn State President Grahm Spanier, has been in the planning stages for two years, and in keeping it under wraps, the University showed a callous disregard for the rights and opinions of the citizens of the Borough of State College. Penn State and Columbia Gas decided to run the pipeline through a residential  community rather than through Penn State property with virtually no other input from anyone but some paid experts, and a few borough officials who were made to believe they had no choice but to agree.

At this point, Penn State has done nothing to prevent the reaction from Columbia Gas in its suit against the town, nor has it shown any reaction to the suit.

If the original route through the community had not been selected, and Penn State had made arrangements to take care of its power plant issues on campus, the town of State College would not have been sued by Columbia Gas.

Currently the litigation is on hold while Penn State and Columbia Gas consider other routes, but even if a non-borough route for the pipeline is selected, the litigation will probably continue, since Columbia Gas will not tolerate the precedent being set by a community succeeding in asserting its right not to be dangerously invaded by them. The suit claims that the borough’s non-issuance of the permit was “arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable’. Citizens of the community of State College feel that these same words could be applied to the original routing of the pipeline by Columbia Gas with Penn State’s collusion.

Some borough citizens are considering filing an intervention suit, are looking for expert legal assistance, and national media attention to this problem.

On a side note:  Ironically, the reason for the conversion of the power plant from coal to gas is to reduce CO2 emissions.  However, since the gas the pipeline will transport is produced by fracking, more greenhouse gas in the form of methane will be produced by the Marcellus Shale fracking required to produce the gas for the power plant than that which is reduced by the conversion of the plant from coal to gas.

For additional information, I commend to your attention the following blog (State College Energy Sovereignty Task Force), which has been reporting on the pipeline debacle since it began and the “Stop the Penn State Pipeline” Facebook page.

—————-

Janet Engeman drafted and sent the press release to the following media outlets:

  • Associated Press offices in Harrisburg, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh
  • Huffington Post
  • New York Times
  • USA Today
  • Time Magazine
  • CNN
  • Rachel Maddow
  • Washington Post.
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