Image used by permission Doug Stewart / via Flickr.

Natural gas and related petrochemical pipelines are expanding into Western Pennsylvania, and as these pipelines snake through a growing number of communities, “people are worried about their water,” says Michele Fetting, a program manager with The Breathe Project.

In response, a grassroots movement of activists from across the state is working to give citizens the knowledge and tools to monitor their water and air.

On Saturday, March 23, several nonprofits are collaborating to hold a free public workshop focused on ways that citizens can monitor their local water quality, and other issues stemming from new pipeline construction, at the Fern Hollow Nature Center in Sewickley.

The workshop will explore ways citizens can report violations during new construction as well as techniques for detecting pollution in streams and surface water.

“The stream water monitoring workshop grew out of concerns from Beaver County residents living near pipelines and other gas infrastructure,” says Fetting. “This workshop will teach them how to monitor the streams located near pipeline and gas infrastructure so we can better understand if water is being contaminated.”

The day’s discussions and presentions will focus in particular on the construction of Shell’s Falcon Pipeline, a 97-mile piece of infrastructure that will move ethane between Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

Despite opposition from the public and environmental groups, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection approved construction of the state’s 45-mile section of the project in December of last year. The line will start in Washinton County and cut northward to the Shell cracker plant in Beaver County, also currently under construction.

In addition to concerns about small-scale but costly pollution seeping into communities along the construction route, many issues have been raised about the project’s vulnerabilities to Western Pennsylvania’s increasingly common landslides.

In September of last year, during heavy rains brought on by Tropical Storm Gordon, a methane gas pipeline run by Energy Transfer Partners in Beaver County was hit by a landslide and exploded. No lives were lost, but a home was destroyed, dozens of people were evacuated and several farm animals were killed in the blast.

The pipeline had been operating for one week.

The daylong symposium is a collaboration between the environmental nonprofits The Breathe Project, the Mountain Watershed Association and the Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring, a division of the environmental studies department at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa.

Bill O'Toole

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.