Williams County Commissioners approved a conditional use permit for a 150 million cubic feet per day gas plant with 4 to 1 vote — above the objections of the plant’s neighbors, and despite a tie vote from the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Commissioner Beau Anderson cast the dissenting vote, saying he preferred to see the matter go back to the Planning and Zoning board for more support, as well as to allow that body to decide the conditions for the plant’s operation.
A tie vote from Planning and Zoning is generally treated as a recommendation to deny a permit, Sam Henderson, senior planner for Williams County, told commissioners prior to the vote. He had included staff recommendations for the plant’s operation in all the Commissioner’s meeting packets, however, in case the board decided to approve the permit.
Trevor Martin represented the company making the request, made by John Aisenbrey of Nesson Gathering. The company is listed as a subsidiary of XTO by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The plant would be located on 76 acres in Judson Township. Martin brought a slide of the proposed layout, which included an outline for an adjacent future plant, if the company decides to expand.
“We would come back to the commission in that case to ask for permission,” Martin said.
The plant would include refrigeration compression to knock out heavier particles and make the gas sellable.
“There is already power capability in the northwest corner that would serve any power needs of the plant,” he added. “It is also located near an NGL pipeline to pump liquids off with only some minor trucking for water. There are a lot of great advantages to this location.”
The plant’s nearest neighbors, Dave and Tammie Bentz, spoke in opposition to the plant, which they said is a quarter of a mile from their home.
“We are not opposed to oil and gas,” Dave Bentz said. “But if there were ever an explosion there, there are oil tanks less than half the distance away. If this thing went, it would take everything from there to the road.”
He said he had read about a plant that blew up, and everything from 10 miles around it was evacuated.
Dave Bentz also said the couple are concerned about noise, smells, and lighting.
“It sounds like jet engines, from what I’ve read online,” he said. “And where we live, everything comes from the northwest. With the wind, we are going to get everything from this gas plant.”
He also expressed concern about the road. It already has heavy traffic on it that it is not designed to take, he said, and has limited visibility in some areas. Small cars can’t see large trucks coming and vice versa.
“How is the road going to handle all this?” he asked.
Martin responded that the plant would have two shifts of four workers each, and, other than that, would have limited trucking for water.
“The gas is dehydrated in the field before it comes here, so it’s only residual water that is left over,” he said.
He added that the plant will follow strict industry guidelines to ensure safety, and that the structure has been designed to address some of the couple’s concerns.
“All the compression is inside, to dramatically reduce the noise,” he said. “And all of the compression is on the north side of the facility, to get as far away from neighbors as possible.”
Lighting will be directional, and focused downward.
“It won’t be the big halogen lights, lighting up the entire sky,” he said. “It will be only as much as needed.
We have tried to design this so it will be as little impact as possible,” he said.
As far as the road, Martin agreed there are issues, but added that the company will leave the road in better condition than it was found in.
“As you know we do a lot of work at our other plants to make sure the road stays up to a good standard,” he said.
He estimated there would be three to four truck loads coming in during construction per week.
“We would do a majority of the civil work this summer, lay off in the winter, and then resume for six to nine months next year.”
The couple said many companies have come into that area making similar promises, but they were not kept.
Williams County Chairman David Montgomery said the permit is for conditional use, so if there are problems and the company doesn’t follow through, the issue can be addressed in the future.
Expansion a concern
“What I worry about is the expansion,” Dave Bentz said. “It’s going to get worse and worse and it’s right on our door step.”
Tom Lunnen, representing an industrial real estate developer, was also present at the meeting.
He recalled how his company had come to the county to ask where commissioners wanted them to put industrial developments.
“They pointed us in this direction,” he said. “We struck our deals out there with Statoil and Hiland Crude, which are large industrial users. And then we constructed one of the largest industrial facilities in the region, the Dakota Access terminal.”
Based on that, Lunnen urged commissioners to approve the conditional use permit.
Commissioner Steve Kemp made the motion to approve the conditional use permit for the gas plant, following most of the planning staff recommendations.
He had some questions, however, about the recommendations for the road, which belongs to the township.
“Does it make sense to pave it if it’s going to get torn up to bring it to county standards?” he asked.
The general approach has been to have companies bring roads to county standards through their property, with a transition zone of about 100 feet past the property.
“That seems like a lot to put on this company,” Commissioner Cory Hanson said. “There are other companies out there. I don’t know if it is right to put the burden on one company.”
He added that the area was zoned for this use, and that it is where the county asked companies to put such developments.
Martin replied that the company is willing to pave the road in proportion to their use.
“The township should be able to take care of half a mile of road,” Commissioner Barry Ramberg said. “It shouldn’t be in the condition it is.”
Commissioner Anderson said he’d prefer to see the permit go back to planning and zoning for more support, and to let them hash out the conditions, after which a roll call vote was taken.