Organic Farmer Rallies Against Gas Compressor Station

  • Don Kretschmann, owner of Kretschmann Farms in New Sewickley Township in Beaver Country, Pa., worries about the future of his organic farm if PennEnergy constructs a natural gas compressor near his land. Photo: Ashley Murray

  • More than 300 people crowded the Big Knob Grange building in New Sewickley Township in Beaver County, Pa., for a hearing on a proposed PennEnergy natural gas compressor. Photo: Ashley Murray

July 25, 2014

Food vs. Fracking

Don and Becky Kretschmann have been supplying more than a thousand customers with organic produce through community supported agriculture, or CSA, since 1971. Now, they’re afraid of losing their business altogether.

"We’re in partially kale and Swiss chard field here. If you would’ve been here even this morning, this kale would’ve been all bushed out and everything, but we picked it all," Kretschmann said. "And right back over the hill, if the leaves were off the trees you could see where the compressor station’s going."

Kretschmann walks through his fields and points to where Cardinal Midstream Inc., a Dallas-based contractor hired by Penn Energy Resources LLC, wants to build a natural gas compressor station 1,865 feet from his property.  The compressor will condense natural gas by evaporating liquid from gas to increase the amount moving from wells through pipelines and to customers.

Kretschmann wonders whether having an industrial site so close will compromise his USDA organic certification. 

"In the same way you wouldn’t locate one of these facilities in residential areas because there’s a lot of people that live there, our farm feeds so many people I feel that you wouldn’t locate one of these facilities near food supply for a large number of people," Kretschmann said.

In the initial phase of development on Teets Road in New Sewickley, three to five wells would feed to the compressor station.  Penn Energy says they have invested a lot of money into the town and plan to develop further. It holds leases from more than 70 percent of township homeowners.  The company says gas compressors are completely routine operations and that  air emissions concerns are unfounded because their emissions from the site will be well below the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection's standards.

Voices Raised

At a contentious hearing Wednesday night, residents and Kretschmann customers expressed concerns about environmental health, property values and losing the rural character of the land.  The Kretscmann Farms lawyer presented 200 letters from Kretschmann Farms customers.

Farmers who leased with Penn Energy lobbied for their own cause. Some said it prevents their land from becoming a Walmart.

Terry Broniszewski, who purchased his hay farm fifteen years ago in New Sewickley Twp., leased his property two years ago along with other farmers in the area.  

"Prior to Penn Energy coming in with the potential land leases, farmers only talked about selling their farms to developers," Broniszewski says.  "The royalties and leasing has given these farmers a retirement."

Some Kretschmann customers wanted to know how the air emissions, which includes carcinogens like benzene, from the compressor’s engines will affect the crops on surrounding farms.  

"Our concern is that the particulates in the general air pollution that will be created by the generator and the compressor, that that will affect in a very adverse way, our food supply." long-time Kretschmann Farms customer Darlene Parisi-Dunn says.

Brian Snyder of the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture also spoke at the hearing.

"One of the main things that we want township officials to keep in mind is that farming is a significant part of this community and that the ability to produce food for residents right here and for the Greater Pittsburgh region is an important resource that they have and that that over the long term is going to mean more to the township than the short-term benefits of giving up land to an industrial installation," Snyder says.

Worry Over Potential Health Risks

Snyder also said that Kretschmann is in a unique situation—selling raw food directly to the public, while other farmers in the area may be selling processing materials like corn or soy to customers they don’t know.  He said some organic farms and grass-fed beef farms in Bradford County, PA are also concerned about contaminants from natural gas development.  He says research in the area of raw food growing next to industrial sites needs to be done first.

Food and Water Watch(FWW) holds a position against such development.  They say that leaky valves or inefficient combustion at compressor stations contains polycyclic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, which can accumulate in soils and be taken up by plants.

However, both FWW and Snyder say that there is not enough research being done on the subject of raw food being grown next to industrial sites.

"This has all happened so quickly that the science hasn't caught up," Snyder says.

Cardinal Midstream said they are well within compliance of the township’s development ordinance. They also say that the chosen site is an efficient place to locate the compressor, given its proximity to pipelines.

"We did extensive research of the area, the New Sewickley Township ordinances and the central location with respect to the pads that are being drilled as part of phase one," Mark Ward, COO of Cardinal Midstream, says.  

Christi Wilson, a consultant for Cardinal Midstream who is handling the air quality compliance said the compressor would include all of the best available technology.

"It will meet or perform better than the state of Pennsylvania’s standards, which are considerably lower than the Federal standards in many cases," Wilson says.

The New Sewickley Township municipality could make a decision as soon as a month and a half from now. The Kretschmann Farms lawyer has requested more time.