Mine Fire Ventilation Pipe

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.

tipka-pipeline
Pete points out where the pipeline would run through his land.

“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.

MINE FIRES

Luke Fiddler Mine Fire Smoke
Smoke rising from the Luke Fiddler (Coal Run) underground mine fire. Photo by www.daladophotography.com

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.

Coal Run Mine Fire, Shamokin
Smoke rising from the Luke Fiddler (Coal Run) underground mine fire. Photo by www.daladophotography.com

Here’s what the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources said about the fire in their December 2013 newsletter:

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.

Glen Burn - Atlantic Sunrise Map
Map of the Atlantic Sunrise path through the Glen Burn mine fires

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. 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.

Luke Fiddler Bore Hole, Glen Burn
Bore hole, installed to monitor the underground fire.

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.

PIPELINE RESISTANCE

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.

Speaking up at local meetings, he’s convinced the township supervisors. They voted 5-0 to oppose the pipeline.

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.

Conestoga
250 people at Conestoga Township Fire Hall meeting against the pipeline

2 comments

  1. Like seen at Centralia PA, coal bed fires do grow & grow. And, PA already has had pipeline failures due to old coal mine subsidence, like a fatal one at Ruff Creek in 1977:

    1977 A 12-inch propane pipeline ruptured near Ruff Creek, in Greene County, Pennsylvania, from stress corrosion cracking. The resulting propane vapor cloud ignited when a truck driven into the cloud stalled, then created a spark when it was restarted. Subsidence of underground coal mines in the area may have hastened the failure. (July 20, 1977)

    1. Wow, thanks. Researching this article took a long time, because every 1 thing lead to another handful of things to go deeper with. Its pretty wild.

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