By Michaelle Bond, Inquirer Staff Writer
Posted: April 04, 2014
Lynda and Steve Farrell moved into their stone house on the side of a hill, their "nook in the woods," in Downingtown one Friday in June 1992. The next morning, they woke up to a bulldozer in the grassy field of their front yard.
"That was our first realization of what it was to have a pipeline on your land," Lynda Farrell, 63, said.
When the couple went down their long, shared driveway, they learned the crew was there to look into a potential leak in one of the three natural gas pipelines that run under the field.
Over the next couple of decades, she had several other realizations. One of the most distressing came in 2008, when the Williams energy company told the community it wanted to expand a pipeline, and Farrell and other residents did not know where to turn to learn about their rights, pipeline safety, and who regulated what.
"We were completely disenfranchised," Farrell said.
So the grandmother of two started the Pipeline Safety Coalition in 2011 to share with other people the facts she spent years learning.
The Pennsylvania nonprofit's mission is to provide neutral information and build partnerships among all those involved, said Farrell, who has held dozens of workshops throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey for residents and local officials.
"Our goal is to make sure everyone has a more level playing field," she said.
The group's latest project is an effort to improve the often-haphazard information-sharing among energy companies, residents, and local governments.
Farrell is using more than $20,000 in federal grant money to try to persuade each of Pennsylvania's 67 counties to make information about pipelines available for residents on one-stop-shopping websites. She started with Chester County, which has the third-highest percentage of pipelines in the state.
The county launched its Pipeline Information Center on chescopagreen.org on Friday, with maps, safety information, and energy company contacts.
Farrell has already contacted other county officials to follow Chester County's lead.
East Brandywine Township has seen up close the results of lapses in communication between energy companies and local government. Officials there received angry e-mails and calls from residents in the fall of 2012 asking why workers sent by Columbia Gas Transmission Corp. were wandering through their neighborhoods, surveying along an existing pipeline and looking at other potential sites.
"We weren't notified of that, and we have these upset residents wondering what's going on," Township Manager Scott Piersol said.
Piersol tried to call his contact at the company, but he no longer worked there. And even when the pipeline companies mail letters to notify residents before the workers arrive, Piersol said, many people think they are junk mail and toss the letters into the trash.
Farrell wants residents to stay informed by using the county websites she is working to create.
As for the energy companies, Williams and Columbia Pipeline Group said they try to inform communities as early as possible of their plans, and the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry trade group, said sharing information was a priority.
Chester County residents can give their thoughts about communication with pipeline companies next Thursday at 10 a.m. at the West Pikeland Township Building in Chester Springs.
That's when the state's Joint Legislative Air and Water Pollution Control and Conservation Committee will hold a public meeting.
"The continued development of the Marcellus Shale will only spur more pipeline projects and widen this disconnect" between companies and communities, said Martin Indars, legislative director for State Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D., Chester). "Thus bridging it is more critical than ever."