Mine Fires and Gas Lines
When Pete Tipka first learned a company wanted to run a natural gas pipeline through his property in Bear Gap, PA, he considered it.
“When the pipeline letter came in the mail, I knew nothing about it. I thought— oh, I’ll make some money… then I did some research.”
Pete points out where the pipeline would run through his land.
It wasn’t easy. He couldn’t get much out of the government. “People were apprehensive about giving information. They clam up and don’t say nothing”. The company sent a landman, but, according to Pete, “he was a typical land person. An employee of a huge corporation, there to make landowners happy.”
The “Atlantic Sunrise” pipeline would run through 10 PA counties, connecting to other pipelines and moving natural gas for export. It’s a proposal from Williams Partners, a Tulsa-based Fortune 200 company.
As of November 2014, the pipeline is in a “public input” stage, before the federal government approves or denies the project. They will also apply for eminent domain, which would give them power to take land if landowners won’t sign.
Pete started to worry about this splitting his land in half. Land that his family has owned for over 175 years. He went to public meetings held by the company, but his concerns were quickly dismissed.
His bigger concern, though, is the mountain to the south of his land, where his great grandpappy used to mill timbers for the mines.
The abandoned coal lands near Shamokin look scraggly and unnatural. There’s mounds, ditches and barren patches all over. Coal and other rock is littered everywhere. They are the scars of mining, above and below ground, over many years.
Those lands were home to the Glen Burn Colliery, which ran for 130+ years. It was once the second largest anthracite coal mine in the world. The waste produced by the mine- rock and coal dust- now sits as the world’s largest man-made mountain. There are three active fires inside the old tunnels.
The most famous place like this is Centralia — the town-on-fire, where the coal under town has been burning since 1962. There’s been books and documentaries about Centralia, but there are more than 30 other mine fires in PA that most people don’t know about. Like the fires where the Glen Burn Colliery used to be.
Would you run a pipeline through Centralia? No way. But the pipeline is set to run right through the area of the Glen Burn fires.
The Glen Burn Mine Fire has started wildfires for as long as locals in Northumberland County can remember. A part of the Glen Burn Fire called the Hickory Corner Fire which started in 1975 has been giving VFDs and DCNR problems during dry conditions over the past few years. The Spring of 2013 was no exception when the mine fire started a wildfire April 9th around 2400 hours. While doing the investigation in daylight it became apparent that we should not be fighting fire in this area due to numerous hazards, especially between dusk and dawn.
The government doesn’t really know the extent of the fires. The last time they tried to check was 1987, when they put in vent pipes to monitor it.
The pipeline isn’t going directly over a fire. It’s going half a mile from the last known location of 2 of them. It does run inside the natural limits of where the fire could spread.
Fire or not, the old tunnels run under the whole mountain, and sometimes collapse. That causes surface cave-ins called subsidence. Williams’ has said, “the pipeline will be designed to maximize its intrinsic ability to span mine subsidence features.” As in, they expect that if the land falls away,the pipeline will not move. If you walk around the area, though, you can see subsidence holes anywhere from 10 to 100 feet deep. Roads and homes are often destroyed.
Leaking pipelines can also be destructive. Last year, only five miles away, a leaking Sunoco gas pipeline destroyed 350 acres of land and groundwater. Williams themselves have a long history of leaks and cover-up attempts.
If the pipeline runs through the old Glen Burn, there’s a real chance of two environmental disasters colliding.
Because of all these reasons, now Pete’s fighting the pipeline.
“If they wanna come through here for $50,000, they’ll have to run me over with a bulldozer,” said Pete.
Pete’s township isn’t the only one opposing it. Martic Township is against it. Over half the registered voters in Conestoga Township have signed a petition. Schuylkill County farmers are fighting it. Pine Grove borough is considering it. Though it only passes nearby, Lancaster City and Millersville Borough passed resolutions against it.
If you live along the pipeline route and want to know more about what’s happening in your area, contact Sam Koplinka-Loehr, Shale Gas Organizer with the Clean Air Council, for info. (215) 567-4004 ext 115 , or email skl(at)cleanair.org .