Brookfield Resident Argues Annoying Noise From Gas Pipeline Compressor Station a Sign of Bigger Problems to Come

Litchfield County Times

July 15, 2012

By Luther Turmelle
New Haven Register
lturmelle@nhregister.com
Steve Kohlase, of Brookfield, with his dog Mattie in front of his home. Before noise from the gas pipeline was audible to the humans in the home Mattie became agitated , as she does when she hears an approaching storm. The dog was placed on Prozac for three months. Melanie Stengel/Register
BROOKFIELD — Step into Steve Kohlhase’s back yard on Dairy Farm Drive in Brookfield and the first thing you will notice is buzzing or humming sound that fills the air.

At first, a visitor might mistake the sound for an airplane flying overhead. But the sound remains constant, day and night, Kohlhase said.

“I used to have trouble sleeping from it, until I figured a way to mask the sound,” he said.

When he bought the house in 1994, Kohlhase didn’t hear the noise. It wasn’t until 2008 that the noise first surfaced, he said.

That’s when the Shelton-based Iroquois Gas Transmission System built a compressor station on a sprawling, 80-acre site off High Meadow Road. The station, which houses two units that regulate the pressure of the natural gas flowing through the pipeline, is located less than a mile from Kohlhase’s house across wooded wetland.

Since then, Kohlhase has spent much of his time trying to convince anyone who will listen at the state and federal levels of the need to investigate the noise and how to resolve it.

A mechanical engineer by trade, Kohlhase believes the sound he and others hear is not from the operation of the compressor station, but from ground born sound waves emanating from transmission line pipes. He has recorded videos that show small waves in his above-ground pool, which he believes were caused by sound waves from the pipeline.

Kohlhase said he’s concerned that if the noise isn’t thoroughly investigated, the sound waves “can contribute to an acceleration in any flaws in welds on these pipelines.”

The concept Kohlhase describes is known as acoustic fatigue, and it is enough of a concern that it was addressed in a 2009 study done for the International Gas Union, a nonprofit trade group based in Oslo, Norway.

“Gas pipeline systems incorporate numerous welded small bore connections such as instrument connections or stabbings, vent and drain points and bypasses around full bore valves,” the study said in part. “These are susceptible to fatigue failure due to vibration excited both through the structure and by pressure fluctuations in the gas. These fatigue failures can result in the release of gas and therefore have significant safety implications.”

Through persistence, Kohlhase was able to get representatives from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to his home last November to check out the noise problem. But agency spokeswoman Mary O’Driscoll said Friday she was unable to comment on what, if any, determinations FERC officials made as a result of their visit.

Dennis Schain, spokesman for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said that while the agency has no record of any complaint by Kohlhase concerning the problem, “we take very seriously our obligation to pursue any complaints or concerns from the public.”

“If such a complaint concerning noise from these pipelines is directed to us, we will look into it and refer it to appropriate officials if we do not have jurisdiction,” Schain said. But because the pipelines are used for the interstate transmission of natural gas, this may be an issue that can only be addressed by FERC, he said.

Officials with Iroquois Gas Transmission System acknowledge that some noise can be heard in Kohlhase’s neighborhood. But Jeff Bruner, the company’s vice president and general counsel, said the noise is from the operation of the compressor units and is within “strict limits set by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.”

Furthermore, Bruner said company officials have tested the Iroquois transmission lines that run underground through Brookfield, three to four feet below the surface, and found no evidence of any noise coming from the natural gas pipelines.

But Kohlhase’s home is located at a veritable ground zero for energy infrastructure.

In addition to the Iroquois compressor station and a 115-kilovolt Connecticut Light & Power transmission line located behind his house, a portion of the 1,120-mile Algonquin Gas transmission pipeline is buried about 40 yards away from the southern side of the house. And the Algonquin and Iroquois pipelines interconnect in Brookfield.

Kohlhase’s concerns about the pipeline come at a time when state officials and utility company executives are trying to encourage increased use of natural gas to heat homes.

Dan Esty, DEEP commissioner, told attendees of a Connecticut Business & Industry Association conference in June that he favors increased use of natural gas to heat the state’s homes and businesses.

“Increased availability of natural gas, particularly from shale fields, is a game changer,” Esty said. But only 29 percent of state homes use natural gas for heat, while 52 percent use heating oil, he said.

The state’s natural gas companies — Yankee Gas, Connecticut Natural Gas and Southern Connecticut Gas — are looking to spend $2.5 billion to expand natural gas infrastructure. Two of those companies — CNG and SCG — are owned by New Haven-based UIL Holdings.

UIL Holdings executives told the New Haven Register in March that the company is looking to expand gas mains into areas that aren’t currently served by natural gas, and are seeking to add customers in areas that already have service lines. Between the two of them, UIL Holdings’ natural gas utilities already have 340,000 customers.

Kohlhase said he’s worried that those kinds of economic and political pressures will result in his concerns being swept aside.

“The problem is there are no good regulations that protect the public from what may be happening here,” he said.

Call Luther Turmelle at 203-789-5706 or follow him on Twitter @LutherTurmelle.