Lancaster city officials fear a “devastating” gas pipeline explosion near the city’s main water line near Columbia that could sever drinking water to 100,000 people.

A 13-year-old Martic Township girl vowed to chain herself to a tree or camp inside the gas pipeline to stop it from running through her family’s “pristine” land.

And Gov. Tom Corbett, while touting  the “significant benefits” of increased natural gas production in Pennsylvania, urged federal officials be sensitive to the “unique concerns and questions for communities who host these pipelines.” To read the entire letter, click here.

Monday was the deadline for the public to submit comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as it prepares an environmental impact analysis on the controversial proposed Atlantic Sunrise Project. Some 35 miles of the Central Penn Line South arm of the project would run through Lancaster County, if approved by FERC.

The public responded with hundreds of comments, about 250 in the last week alone. Since the project by Williams Partners was announced in March, some 1,297 public comments have been received by FERC, the great majority coming from Lancaster County.

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Referring to FERC’s mission to approve pipelines only in the “public interest,” Dr. Patrick Weybright of Manheim questioned whether “contaminated drinking water in this area, damaged roads, disrupted fragile topsoil, springs and river by a company with a sub-par safety record” meet that criteria.

“What is in  the public interest?” Weybright continued. “Preserving Lancaster County farmland from negative environmental impacts.”

Farmers Robert and Dorothy Becker of Rapho Township wrote that their farm was partially preserved by the federal Farm and Ranchlands Protection Program. That program dictates that “the farm owner cannot grant an easement for a pipeline” and that “the pipeline company cannot exercise the power of eminent domain to take an easement across the farm,” according to the Beckers.

Fellow farmers Harold and Barbara Frey of Conestoga wrote: “We voluntarily preserved this farm to protect it from development. We did not preserve this farm to provide a new path for a private corporation’s green field pipeline when a pipeline right of way already exists which can be upgraded to carry additional natural gas.”

Nancy Jeffries’ letter talked about protecting Native American sites and preserved farmland. “We need these parasites out of our county so we can continue in our efforts to protect the best farmland in the world,” said the Conestoga woman.  

Said Melissa Gehler of Lancaster, “Williams should use existing pipeline rights of way rather than industrializing new land. Lancaster County citizens should not have to bear the brunt of Williams’ desire to save money by creating a shortcut route.”

Among the groups that filed comments opposing the pipeline were Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, which observed that “Pennsylvania’s history has been marked by ill-conceived use and misuse of our natural resources...This history is directly relevant and part of the concerns raised by communities in the pipeline’s proposed path, since this project has major direct and indirect impacts that threaten water, air and land resources, and public safety.”

In its opposition, the Stewards of the Lower Susquehanna urged FERC to study the socioeconomic impacts that would occur in Lancaster County because of its reliance on agriculture and tourism.

Lancaster Farmland Trust noted the pipeline route would negatively impact hundreds of acres of preserved farms in the county.

”Williams has acknowledged that they have never sited a pipeline in an area with such extensive concentrations of protected land and they do not fully understand the consequences of doing so,” the trust wrote to FERC.

Fred Daum of Lancaster suggested the pipeline be made to skirt the heart of Lancaster County, as occurred with the Pennsylvania Turnpike routing.

Audubon Pennsylvania and the Lancaster County Bird Club expressed “dismay” that the proposed pipeline route would “plow through critical migratory songbird nesting habitat.”

Mark Platts, president of the Susquehanna Gateway Heritage Area that promotes sustainable tourism along the Susquehanna River in Lancaster and York counties, said “this project could undermine the years of work and millions of dollars invested in protecting the river landscape and the waters that run through it.”

The National Park Service, while not opposing the project, said it had concerns about the pipeline’s effects on the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail in the lower Susquehanna and the Appalachian Trail.

In one of the rare non-opposition letters sent to FERC, Arthur Mann Sr. of Lancaster called the proposed pipeline “a necessary evil” But he said that with only 8,000 of a potential 100,000 gas wells now drilled, as many as 10 additional gas pipelines will likely be requested over the next 10 years.

“I am requesting that FERC designate one and only one right of way for the future pipelines to minimize the disruption of county property.”

Many of the comments urged FERC to force Williams to expand its pipeline capacity on existing rights of way.

“If a pipeline expansion is inevitable, please increase the capacity of current pipelines rather than destroying the beautiful farm land, nature preserves, wildlife and other gems of Lancaster County,” said Mindy Nolt of Lancaster in a typical comment.

A number also questioned why natural gas, which is a finite natural resource, should be allowed to be exported overseas.

The comments to FERD did include a few stray supporters. The Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry said the pipeline would “help our state and nation foster economic growth and environmental progress.”

FERC says it has already started on its environmental review of the project and promised “our independently analysis of the issues.” FERC gave no timetable for its release but said timely comments would be considered.

Williams has not officially asked FERC for a permit to build the pipeline. The company intends to do that in March. FERC would probably render a decision by May 2015. Williams hopes to begin construction on the pipeline in June 2016 and begin transporting gas in July 2017.

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Ad Crable is a Lancaster Newspapers staff writer and outdoors columnist who covers the environment and nuclear energy. He can be reached at or (717) 481-6029. You can also follow @AdCrable on Twitter.