Natural gas leak at Robeson County compressor station adds to anxiety over Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Prospect, North Carolina is near NC Highway 710, a major route to and from Pembroke. Piedmont Natural Gas has a compressor station there.

A compressor station in the town of Prospect in Robeson County leaked natural gas for more than an hour early yesterday morning, before repair crews could stop it. That accident, although minor, underscores the safety concerns voiced by Atlantic Coast Pipeline opponents.

The Robesonian first reported the story today. The paper quoted Talford Dial, who lives about 400 yards from the compressor station, as saying it sounded like a “747 taking off,” even though a woods buffers his home from the site.

A malfunctioning valve caused the leak. The paper quoted Jennifer Sharpe, a communications consultant with Piedmont Natural Gas, as saying, “It was never an unsafe situation.” The utility did not call local emergency crews.

Prospect, a town of 690 people in Robeson County, is along the Atlantic Coast Pipeline route. Duke Energy and Dominion Energy, the major co-owners of the $5.5 billion project, plan to build a metering and regulating station there. (Piedmont Natural Gas also owns a small portion of the ACP.)

Prospect is about a mile and a half northwest of the pipeline’s blast zone, an area where people would likely be injured or die in the event of a natural gas explosion. From the pipeline’s radius, the blast zone is 943 feet, the evacuation zone is 3,071 feet, more than a half-mile.

Robin Goins, a member of the Lumbee tribe in Robeson County and ACP opponent, released a statement today: “This is in the middle of an inhabited community on a well-traveled highway. It is not in an isolated, rural area.”

A a public hearing last week on a proposed compressor station in Northampton County, supporters of the ACP emphasized its safety, while opponents disputed those claims to state environmental officials. For example, the emissions limits — of methane, formaldehyde and other compounds — are averages, said Therese Vick of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League. That method of measuring fails to capture the real scope of the pollution, she said, because the emissions levels fluctuate.

As for the leaks, “Every compressor station has releases,” said Tom Clark. He noted that under the state’s proposed air quality permit, the utilities wouldn’t have to report excessive emissions to environmental regulators if the leak lasted less than four hours. “They can even hold off until the next business day. That’s uncalled for.”

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