Police: Arson caused compressor fire

| 11 Aug 2015 | 03:59

By Anya Tikka
— Milford's unpopular compressor station caught fire Saturday night, and investigators from the Pennsylvania State Police at Blooming Grove say it's arson.

The perpetrator, still unknown to the police, started a fire inside the station that damaged a turbine motor skid, according to the police report. There were no injuries, and damage is estimated at $80,000.

The incident happened sometime between 10 and 11 p.m. on Aug. 8, the report said. The Columbia Pipeline Group of Strasburg, Va., is listed as victim of the crime.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the state police at the Dunmore Fire Marshal Unit, at 570-963-4323, or the Blooming Grove barracks, at 570-226-5718.

A statement from Columbia Pipeline said the small fire was found by a security guard at the station who immediately called 911 and company officials. Local firefighters responded shortly afterward to extinguish the fire, the statement said.

Scott Castleman, manager of external communications at Columbia Pipeline, told the Courier that no gas was flowing through the station's piping.

At this point, Castleman said, "We're just cooperating with the authorities."

He said the expansion project is due to be completed by the end of the year, most likely in the fall.

Alex Lotorto, a leader of the grassroots movement opposing the expansion of the compressor station, questioned the arson finding.

"Columbia’s security personnel told concerned residents on Fire Tower Road that the fire was the result of a contractor leaving an arc welder on or plugged in inside a building," he said in a statement. "We hope investigators will pursue that lead before concluding it was an arson attack."

He said the company and state police should look into the possibility of negligence "especially because work continues at the compressor station daily.”

A stop on the way for shale gas

The station is undergoing a significant expansion to handle the great volume of natural gas being produced in hydrofracking fields to the west. The Milford station compresses the gas before it continues on its way to New Jersey and beyond.

Local opponents say the expansion will increase emissions of nitrous oxide and carbon monoxide, posing danger to people and wildlife who live nearby. They also say it will increase heavy truck traffic and noise pollution.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection permitted the expansion after an extensive public comment period.

Lotorto is shale gas program coordinator for Energy Justice Network, which said in a statement that a safety review and training are needed at the Milford site. The statement said the fire "also highlights the urgent need for an emergency management plan for the compressor and the three interconnected transmission pipelines at that location.” Once the compressor is online and pumping, the Network says, it will release "the equivalent of a fleet of diesel school buses' emissions into the air.”

Lotorto said that Columbia received a building permit for the building structure, but not a conditional-use approval, as required by Milford Township's zoning ordinance for non-conforming uses in a residential zone.

Editor's note: Pamela Chergotis contributed to the reporting of this story. Lotorto's statement about permits has been corrected from its first posting online.