A plan to truck natural gas to a site just outside Bridgeville, expanding an existing pipeline operation there, officially has the OK from Sussex County Council. Eastern Shore Natural Gas, a subsidiary of Chesapeake Utilities, will still have to get state and federal approvals.
The Council approved the request to allow the project by a 4-1 vote, with District 5 Council member John Rieley the lone no vote, although he also praised natural gas as being a relatively clean source of energy.
Some object to the plan because the site is next to Phillis Wheatley Elementary School. Groups like Food and Water Watch, which has been the most vocal opponent, criticized the continued use of carbon-based fuels like natural gas, and cited the danger of explosions near the school, traffic, noise levels, and that the neighborhood has a lot of residents who are minorities and will be affected the most.
Eastern Shore Natural Gas has downplayed the risk. Mark Parker, engineering manager for Eastern Shore Natural Gas, has said a catastrophic failure of the pipeline would have an "impact" radius of around 200 feet, which would stay within the property.
"Eastern Shore has safely and reliably served natural gas transportation needs for the region since 1959," he told Council.
Council member Cindy Green, whose district includes the pipeline facility, mentioned concerns she had heard about safety near the school.
Parker emphasized that traffic will come off Route 404 and through an industrial park, meaning it will not pass the school.
"Our safety record is impeccable ... and we intend to keep it that way," he said.
"I have to be honest, it gives me some pause," Rieley said of having the facility near a school. He recalled an incident at a Suburban Propane in Millsboro when his father-in-law was a manager there.
"They developed a leak; and there was an enormous cloud, it looked like a fog surrounding that entire area," he said. "... And they were just praying there wouldn't be the slightest spark." (There wasn't.)
"Being in proximity to an elementary school, even if it's a long shot that that could happen, gives me pause," Rieley said.
Parker noted that propane is heavier than air, whereas natural gas is lighter than air and if there were an incident like a leak, they'd be able to disperse it.
Greg Layton, from Food and Water Watch, was the lone person testifying for or against the expansion of the site, aside from the company representative.
He called natural gas dirty fuel, and said "it is abundantly clear that Delaware needs to move on from fossil fuel infrastructure and factory farms, not double down." Layton also raised the same objections about safety and environmental justice that had been brought up earlier before the Planning and Zoning Commission.
"The decision to build one next to a school was absurd in 1988 (when the original pipeline went in) and expanding it now is unconscionable," he said.
After the testimony, Green made the motion to approve and it passed easily.
"I love natural gas. I think it's absolutely the right thing to do ... I just wish it wasn't in that particular location," Rieley said before his no vote.
Read more detail about the proposed site in our previous coverage.