Rally at Wheatfield Town Hall in Opposition to National Fuel Expansion

Last evening over fifty residents turned out for a rally at Wheatfield Town Hall to protest the installation of a natural gas dehydrator off Liberty Drive in the town. The proposed facility is to augment a National Fuel pipeline currently being built to transport fracked natural gas from the drilling fields of Pennsylvania to Canada.

This entire issue came to light only last week when locals noticed equipment being off-loaded at the site, even though the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the agency in charge of pipeline infrastructure in this country, has yet to sign off on the project and issue a permit. It appears National Fuel may even have gotten advance notice of the outcome of the regulatory process, given that the public comment period isn’t officially over until tomorrow, Dec. 19.

The potential health impacts on the approximately 700 Wheatfield households within a one-mile radius of the glycol dehydrator are substantial, given that measurable quantities of carcinogens such as benzene, toluene, formaldehyde and radon are released to the environment by “glycol dehydrators”, as they are called. These pollutants have been linked to higher incidences of asthma, birth defects, endocrine disruption, lung and other cancers and central nervous system damage.

In fact, one leader of the ad hoc group “Wheatfield Action Team”, Jennifer Wozniak, which sponsored the event, revealed to the crowd that National Fuel is constrained to build it here since Canada won’t allow it to be built there because of environmental and health concerns.

And according to another Action Team leader, Mike Alianello, “There is also another controversial plant, Quasar Biosolids, that is in this half-mile zone. Imagine what would happen if one had an accident and it caused a problem with the other. I wouldn’t want to experience the fall-out from that.”

The threat posed by the National Fuel gas dehydrator was made all the more apparent by the dozen or so children and toddlers who accompanied their parents at the rally on the town hall parking lot on this chilly December evening, which was held prior to a meeting of the Wheatfield Planning Board. The Action Team is not happy with the performance of town government on the issue to this point. According to a flyer handed out, a December 9 “informational meeting” (italics theirs) was held at the Wheatfield Community Center on the dehydration plant proposal.

“There are only a few days left to write to FERC to speak our piece as to why it is unsafe to put this in the proposed site yet our ‘great’ supervisor admitted that they knew this was a possible site in September or early October… Those same elected officials happened to be at my house looking for votes and to put up signs for their reelection in October but failed to mention to me that there was a proposed Natural Gas facility that was going to be about 2500 feet outside my back door.”

However, Town board member Larry Helwig did attend and briefly addressed the concerned citizens, as did Assemblyman John Ceretto (D-Lewiston), both pledging to do what they could to bring focus to the issue, and also seek to gain an extension of the public comment period past Friday’s deadline. A “Say No to Wheatfield Pollution” banner, linked to a petition, is prominently featured at the top of Ceretto’s web site.

Another approach that opponents are adopting is to attempt to call the matter to the attention of the state Department of Environmental Conservation. One woman spoke up and revealed that she was previously prohibited from mowing her lawn beyond a certain point because the area was a designated wetlands, and therefore under the DEC’s jurisdiction. Additionally, the site may play host to one or more endangered or threatened species, which are protected under state law.

Barring an extension, Wheatfield, North Tonawanda and Pendleton residents, and all other Niagara County residents who are sick and tired of shouldering more than our fair share of exposure to toxic and harmful pollution, may submit public comments at https://ferconline.ferc.gov/QuickComment.aspx through tomorrow. Wheatfield Action Team encourages commenters to not simply take a NIMBY (not in my back yard) stance, but include specific references to the noise, air pollution and potential for catastrophic gas explosions in this peaceful, quiet and well-kept residential community setting.

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