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Grassroots Opposition Growing Against Proposed Southeast PA GTL Plant

A "not in my backyard" fight is shaping up in southeast Pennsylvania, where in Berks County, a grassroots organization has been formed to oppose a 500,000 gallon/d gas-to-liquids (GTL) facility that would produce gasoline and propane on a 63-acre plot in South Heidelberg Township.

Shortly after Calgary-based EmberClear Corp. submitted its plans to township supervisors in March and word spread about the facility (see Shale Daily, March 5), the South Heidelberg Township Community Association got to work on a campaign to stop its construction.

The plant is projected to cost between $800 million and $1 billion. Although Berks County is not home to any unconventional oil and gas development, it is somewhat close to a major region of Marcellus Shale development in northeast Pennsylvania, and even closer to Philadelphia's industrial complex, which is about 70 miles to the northwest.

EmberClear has been motivated as of late by the prospects of Marcellus Shale gas. It plans to build two 300 MW combined-cycle power plants in Pennsylvania, as well (see Shale Daily, May 28, 2013). The company is just a developer, though, and it is currently in discussions with other companies to operate the facility, which is one of many worries on a growing list for some residents in South Heidelberg.

The group cites the potential for catastrophe, terrorism attacks, a lack of township infrastructure, pollution and the foul smells associated with natural gas refinement as reasons to build support against the project.

Local news media reported that hundreds of people showed up at a recent meeting hosted by the community association. The group is currently circulating a petition to ban the GTL plant, and it has distributed T-shirts and yard signs for residents to demonstrate their opposition.

The group is also raising money for its efforts, with its website showing that $4,360 of a $10,000 goal has already been raised in the last month or so.

The growing opposition comes at a time when similar projects across the Appalachian Basin have seemed to stagnate.

Royal Dutch Shell plc's proposed multi-billion-dollar western Pennsylvania cracker, announced in 2011 (see Shale Daily, June 7, 2011), has yet to progress, as is the case for Odebrecht Organization's $3.8 billion West Virginia cracker (see Shale Daily, Nov. 14, 2013). Meanwhile, permits have been submitted for privately-owned Marcellus GTL LLC's 84,000 gallon/d GTL facility in Blair County, PA (see Shale Daily, March 26, 2013), while ground has yet to be broken on Pinto Energy LLC's 2,800 b/d GTL facility in northeast Ohio (see Shale Daily, Sept. 24, 2013).

For those facilities, the delays have not been so much about local opposition as what experts have attributed to an ongoing analysis of economic viability.

On Wednesday, Shell held two public open houses to explain plans for its cracker on the site of a former zinc smelting plant, where it has signed an amended purchase agreement three times for the property (see Shale Daily, Dec. 26, 2013). Hundreds reportedly attended that event, where Shell repeated that it had not yet made a decision to go forth with the facility, instead opting to fill people in on the company's plans for site preparations.

At a number of recent regional oil and gas industry conferences, midstream executives from M3 Midstream LLC, EnLink Midstream LLC and PVR Partners, among others, have all argued that Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania face stiff competition in the petrochemical realm from the Gulf Coast, where it is often cheaper to expand existing facilities and where regulations and the local environs are more hospitable to such development (see Shale Daily, March 24; March 10).

Although South Heidelberg’s township manager could not be reached to comment about the growing opposition, an official in his office said a public meeting was planned for April 24 to discuss the GTL plant and the community's concerns. That meeting will take place before a vote next month when township supervisors will vote on whether to approve EmberClear's site plan.

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