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Fact Sheet
Understanding Natural Gas
Compressor Stations

ompressor stations are an very high, several compressor units
integral part of the natural gas may be operated in stages (serially)
pipeline network that moves to achieve the desired pressure in
natural gas from individual produc- stages.
ing well sites to end users. As nat- As natural gas is compressed,
ural gas moves through a pipeline, heat is generated and must be dis-
distance, friction, and elevation sipated to cool the gas stream before
differences slow the movement of leaving the compressor facility. For
the gas, and reduce pressure. Com- every 100 psi increase in pressure,
pressor stations are placed strate- the temperature of the gas stream
gically within the gathering and increases by 78 degrees. Most
transportation pipeline network compressor stations have an aerial
to help maintain the pressure and cooler system to dissipate excess
Figure 1. Separator. Courtesy of the National Fuel
flow of gas to market. heat (an after cooler). The heat
Gas Midstream Corporation
generated by the operation of the
Components of a Compressor individual compressor units is dis-
Station sipated via a sealed coolant system
Natural gas enters a compressor similar to an automotive radiator.
station through station yard piping In wet gas areas, or areas that
and is passed through scrubbers produce natural gas liquids (NGLs),
and filters to extract any liquids changes in pressure and tempera-
and remove solids or other particu- ture cause some of the liquids to
late matter that may be in the gas drop out. The liquids that drop out
stream (Figure 1). Once the natural are captured in tanks and trucked
gas stream has been cleaned, it is off site. The liquids captured are re-
directed through additional yard ferred to as natural gasoline or drip
piping to individual compressors. gas, which is often used as a blend
Computers regulate the flow and in motor gasoline.
number of units that are needed Most compressor stations are
to handle the scheduled system fueled by a portion of the natural
flow requirements. Most compres- gas flowing through the station,
sor units operate in parallel, with although in some areas of the coun-
the individual compressor units try, all or some of the units may be
providing the needed additional electrically powered primarily for
pressure before directing the gas environmental or security reasons.
back into the pipeline with full op- Gas-powered compressors may be
erational pressure restored. When driven by either conventional pis-
the required boost in pressure is ton engines or natural gas turbine
units. There are site design and Compressor station yards for are part of a gathering system are
operational differences, as well as gathering lines are often larger than also regulated by the state. In Penn-
unique air and sound emissions, be- transmission line compressors due sylvania, the Department of Envi-
tween these competing compressor to multiple pipelines coming into ronmental Protection (PA DEP) is
engine technologies. the complex, and in some cases, responsible for environmental per-
There may be one or more in- additional equipment needed to mitting and regulation during gath-
dividual compressor units at a sta- filter and remove liquids from the ering system compressor planning
tion, which can be out in the open, gas stream (Figure 3). Other com- and construction. The Gas Safety
or more often, housed in a building ponents of a compressor complex Division of the Pennsylvania Public
to facilitate maintenance and sound include backup generators, gas me- Utility Commission (PA PUC) is
management. Newer units are often tering equipment, gas filtration sys- responsible for safety oversight dur-
housed one per building, but there tems, and system monitoring and ing construction and operation of
may be multiple units in one large safety controls. There may also be certain Class 2, Class 3, and Class
building. Compressor buildings gen- odorization equipment to add mer- 4 locations. PA PUC regulation
erally incorporate insulated walls, captan, which provides the distinc- includes material and design speci-
shielded exhaust systems, and ad- tive sulfurous odor to natural gas. fications, on-site inspections, and
vanced fan technology to dampen review of company maintenance
sound. Newly constructed com- Permitting and Regulatory and safety procedures.
pressor buildings may incorporate Framework Natural gas within a gathering
these features where local, state, Compressor stations are either system can arrive at a compres-
or federal regulations require noise permitted and regulated at the fed- sor station at a variety of pressures
mitigation (Figure 2). eral or state level depending on the depending on the pressure of the
type of the pipeline the compressor wells feeding the system and the
services. For this publication, two distance gas travels from the well-
Figure 2. Inside compressor building. Courtesy of head to the compressor. Regardless
the Marcellus Education Team basic types of pipeline/compressor
systems will be discussed: gathering of the incoming pressure, the gas
systems and interstate transmission must be regulated or compressed to
systems. It should be noted that it transmission pressures (generally
is the purpose, not the size of the 800 to 1,200 psi) before it can enter
pipe, that defines whether a pipe- an interstate transmission system.
line is a gathering or interstate line. Because compression requirements
can be significant within the gath-
Compressor Stations within the ering system, these compressor
Gathering System systems are generally large facilities
Gathering lines are commonly consisting of 6 to 12 compressors
smaller diameter pipelines (gener- in several buildings. Many of these
ally in the range of 6 to 20 inches) gathering system compressor sta-
that move natural gas from the tions are scaled up in size as more
wellhead to a natural gas processing wells are drilled in an area, increas-
facility or an interconnection with ing the demand for compression.
a larger mainline pipeline. Gather- The permanent land requirements
ing lines are regulated at the state of a gathering system compressor
level and compressor stations that are generally 5 to 15 acres, but they
can exceed this, considering slope of
land and other factors.
Figure 3. Compression station yard. Courtesy of Spectra Energy
Compressor Stations within the
Natural Gas
Interstate Transmission System
Fuel Gas Transmission pipelines are gener-
Lube Oil ally wide-diameter (2048 inches),
Muffler long-distance pipelines that trans-
port natural gas from producing
1. Station Yard Piping areas to market areas. These in-
2. Filter Separators/Scrubbers
terstate pipelines carry natural gas
3. Compressor Units
4. Gas Cooling System across state boundariesin some
5. Lube Oil System cases, clear across the country. The
6. Mufflers (Exhaust Silencers) Federal Energy Regulatory Commis-
7. Fuel Gas System
sion (FERC) has authority over the
8. Backup Generators
location, construction, and opera-
tion of interstate pipelines and com-
pressors. The FERC review process the pipeline. Friction and elevation Figure 4. Emergency shutdown valve on incoming
includes an environmental review, differences slow the gas and reduce pipeline. Courtesy of the Marcellus Education Team
evaluation of site alternatives, and the pressure, so compressor stations
interfacing with landowners and the are placed typically 40 to 70 miles
public. apart along the pipeline to provide
Once federally regulated inter- a boost in pressure. Because they
state compressor stations become are only providing a boost in pres-
operational, station safety is regu- sure, interstate transmission system
lated, monitored, and enforced by compressors are generally smaller
the U.S. Department of Transpor- facilities compared to gathering
tation (DOT). Within DOT, the system compressors. A typical facil-
Pipeline and Hazardous Materials ity may consist of two compressor
Safety Administration (PHMSA) is units (one that is operational and
responsible for enforcing proper de- one that serves as a backup unit)
sign, construction, operation, main- within a single building. The typi- vent compressor station gas piping
tenance, testing, and inspection cal permanent land requirement of (sometimes referred to as a blow
standards. an interstate compressor is 4 to 5 down). Regulations require that
Interstate transmission lines are acres. compressor stations periodically
regulated at the federal level and test and perform maintenance on
compressor stations that are part of Safety Considerations the emergency shutdown system
an interstate transmission system Compressor stations incorporate to ensure reliability. It is advisable
are also federally regulated. Inter- a variety of safety systems and for landowners, neighbors, and first
state compressor facilities must practices to protect the public and responders to become familiar with
generally comply with local and station employees in the event of safety systems, testing procedures,
state regulations; however, if there an emergency. For example, every and emergency response protocols
is a conflict, the more stringent station has an emergency shutdown for compressor stations in their
regulations will prevail. system (ESD) connected to a control area.
Natural gas within an inter- system that can detect abnormal
state pipeline is generally already conditions such as an unanticipated Odorization
pressurized at 800 to 1,200 psi. To pressure drop or natural gas leak- Natural gas is a colorless, odorless
ensure that gas continues to flow age (Figure 4). These emergency gas, so an odorant, typically mercap-
optimally, it must be periodically systems will automatically stop the tan, is added to the gas stream as an
compressed and pushed through compressor units and isolate and additional safety mechanism. Odor-

Table 1. Compressor station regulation. The following matrix is provided as a basic overview of compressor station parameters that are regulated and the agencies involved.
Gathering System Compressors (PA) Interstate System Compressors (Federal)
Agency Regulation Agency Regulation
Air Emissions PA DEP Revised GP-5 permit. EPA and PA DEP Clean Air Act
Noise Emissions None* *Municipalities may have local noise Noise must not exceed a day-night average level of 55
ordinances that would apply to compressor decibels at any preexisting noise-sensitive area (NSA)
stations within the municipality. such as schools, hospitals, or residences.

Erosion and PA DEP Chapter 102: erosion and sediment pollution FERC FERC works in cooperation with county Conservation
Sedimentation control regulations. Districts to implement these regulations.
Siting PA DEP Chapter 105: waterways and wetlands FERC FERC scoping, environmental review, and public input.
(limited) permitting.
Vibration None FERC Companies are required to comply with FERCs rule at
18CFR 380.12(k)(4)(v)(B) to ensure there is no increase in
perceptible vibration from the operation.
Operation, PA PUC Material and design specifications, on-site US DOT PHMSA Material and design specifications, on-site inspections,
Maintenance and inspections, review of maintenance and review of maintenance and safety procedures.
Safety safety procedures.
Public Input PA DEP 45-day comment period on proposed general FERC Public may submit input on a proposed compressor
permits. station during several stages of the FERC review

25 Pa. Code 127.621

25 Pa. Code 127.44
ization of natural gas in Interstate already included in a mineral lease agreement. If terms are not met, is
and gathering transmission systems or a pipeline agreement, the land- the landowner willing to compro-
is regulated under Title 49, part 192 owner may want to ask the opera- mise? Landowners should consider
of the Federal Code of Regulations, tor for a surface use agreement to whether the project will interfere
which requires transmission lines provide guidelines and restrictions with their land, lifestyle, and/or
in highly populated areas (Class for construction of a compressor farming operations. Some items for
3 and 4 locations) to be odorized. station; however, this is usually consideration in negotiating a price
High-consequence areas are subject easier to negotiate before you have might include:
to added layers of regulation to en- signed a mineral lease. Refer to 1. The amount of land required
sure public safety. Class location Penn State Extension publications
2. The amount of land disturbed
is a term used in the regulations to A Landowners Guide to Leasing
(temporary and permanent)
denote the population density sur- Land in Pennsylvania and Nego-
rounding the pipeline. Class loca- tiating Pipeline Rights-of-Way in 3. The real estate value of the land
tion is determined by the number of Pennsylvania for more information 4. The impact on the use and value
dwelling units within 220 yards in a on mineral leasing and right of way of your remaining acreage
sliding mile of the pipeline. Classes considerations.
5. Potential interference with agri-
3 and 4 are those locations with
culture operations
46 or more buildings or a building Lease or Sell the Site?
occupied by 20 or more persons at Compressor operators may have a 6. Value of recent compressor site
least 5 days a week for 10 weeks preference to own the property rath- leases and sales in your area
(schools, community centers, etc.). er than lease the acreage where the
Transportation pipelines in Class compressor station is built. Land- Remember, there is no set dollar
1 and 2 locationsrural areas with owners should consider the implica- amount that a landowner must ac-
fewer than 46 buildings per sliding tions of selling versus leasing their cept, but the value of recent site
mileare exempt from the odoriza- property for a compressor station. leases and sales provide a general
tion regulations. On a practical ba- Selling the site may alleviate some indication of what the industry is
sis, gas that is odorized for a Class 3 concerns for landowners such as li- willing to pay for similar agree-
or 4 location upstream will retain ability, property taxes, trespass, and ments in your area.
some level of odorant in the gas site reclamation. Payment for the
stream as it travels through Class 1 sale of a site usually occurs up front Clean and Green Program
and 2 areas. and in full without the possibility Clean and Green is a preferential
for additional, ongoing payments. assessment of property tax that en-
Community and Landowner Leasing the property may pro- courages the preservation of farm,
Considerations vide the landowner more control forest, and open land in Pennsylva-
Although some oil and gas leases over siting and design consider- nia. The Clean and Green law al-
and pipeline easement agreements ations of the compressor station. A lows the portion of property that is
may allow the construction of landowner may require buffers to set aside for oil and gas operations
compressor stations on the leased diminish sound and sight distur- to be set aside without penalty that
acreage, most compressor station bance. Leasing may give landowners would affect the entire property.
agreements are negotiated as a sepa- more leverage during the construc- The portion of property affected
rate contract with the landowner. tion and operations phases of the will be subjected to roll-back taxes
When dealing with mineral leases, compressor stationa midstream (up to 7 years and a charge of 6
rights-of-way, or other agreements, company on a lease may be quicker percent simple interest) and will
it is generally advisable to keep the to respond to a landowner from be assessed at full market value in
agreement as narrow as possible and whom they are leasing. Either way, the future. Landowners enrolled
not allow the placement of surface it is important for landowners to in Clean and Green or any other
structuressuch as compressor sta- consider the agreement and how preservation or conservation pro-
tionswithin the agreement. By do- it may affect their bottom line and gram should consider having legal
ing this, the landowner may be able lifestyle. Income tax and property counsel review and amend the
to receive additional value from a tax implications should also be con- agreement stating that the lessor or
compressor lease and can concen- sidered in the decision to lease or purchaser assumes payment of any
trate on negotiating terms that are sell. back taxes or penalties assessed as a
unique to a compressor lease or sale result of the agreement.
(or avoid it altogether). For example, Valuation
site location, sound mitigation, traf- How much is a site for a compres- Site Considerations
fic, and lighting restrictions may be sor station worth? The answer can Site Considerations Compressor
more important considerations in vary significantly depending on lo- station sites have varied widely in
a compressor site than other agree- cation and the individual landown- the number of acres disturbed dur-
ments. If a compressor station is ers threshold for negotiating terms ing the construction phase and land
and conditions of the sale of lease permanently used during operation.
Figure 5. Compressor station. Courtesy of the sensitive areas would include oc- Air Quality
Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research cupied residences, places of worship, Most natural gas compressor sta-
and other locations. This require- tions are powered by combustion
ment only affects compressor sta- engines, which vent exhaust emis-
tions that are regulated by FERC, sions into the atmosphere. In 2013,
which would include the interstate PA DEP implemented stricter
pipeline system in Pennsylvania, but emission standards for compressor
does not include compressors that stations through a revised GP-5.
are tied into gathering lines. Some PA DEP has established a compre-
municipalities (counties, townships, hensive air emissions reduction pro-
boroughs) have their own ordinances gram for the natural gas compres-
in place that limit noise. If there is sion and processing operations.
an ordinance in place, consider ask- PA DEP has developed a compli-
ing your municipal officials for a ance certification form and sample
copy of the ordinance. worksheet to assist the regulated
There are no overriding state industry with the submission of
regulations governing noise emis- compliance certifications due by
sions from compressor stations in March 1 of each year. The US EPA
(Figure 5). This could range from Pennsylvania. If the proposed facil- also regulates air emissions from
3 acres to more than 20 acres per ity is not under FERC jurisdiction compressor stations under statutes
site; an average gathering system and the municipality does not have in the Clean Air Act.
compressor site built in the last few a noise ordinance in place, land- Compressor stations can be a
years may be 12 to 15 acres, but owners should consider adding min- potential source of methane emis-
earth moving, soil stockpiling, and imum standards in their lease/sale sions. In 2012, EPA estimated that
access roads will add to the total agreement. Landowners may also as many as 45 percent of methane
disturbed acreage. Landowners may consider future residential develop- emissions in the natural gas trans-
wish to specify a limit on disturbed ment in the area of the proposed portation and storage sector were
acres and the amount of land al- compressor site. One consideration from traditional reciprocating com-
lowed for permanent use. The areas is to place a noise restriction at the pressors (EPA estimated that the
for temporary use or construction edge of the compressor site (e.g., transportation and storage sector
rights-of-way should be clearly no more than 60 dBA Ldn from the was responsible for 27 percent of
spelled out in terms of use and the edge of the compressor site) rather overall methane emissions from the
amount of time it is good for (e.g., than a restriction to the closest oil and gas industry). To curb meth-
temporary does not have a defi- noise sensitive area. ane emissions in the oil and gas
nition in an agreement until the
landowner sets parameters such as
6 months or 1 year). Table 2. Comparative examples of sound levels.
Sound Emissions Sound Levels in dBA General Agriculture
Compressors can generate a signifi-
0 Threshold of hearing (weakest sound)
cant amount of noise depending on
40 Quiet office, library
the type of compressor, sound miti-
gation technologies used, the slope 5060 Normal conversation
of the land surrounding the com- 5570 Dishwasher
pressor, and other factors. Land- 74112 Tractor
owners may wish to consider noise 77120 Chainsaw
as it affects them and their neigh- 7989 Riding mower
bors when negotiating a compres-
80105 Combine
sor station agreement. Compressor
station operators often incorporate 81102 Grain dryer
some level of noise mitigation in 83116 Crop dusting aircraft
their site design, but the landowner 85106 Orchard sprayer
may want to include minimum 85115 Pig squeals
standards in their lease or sale 8894 Garden tractor
9397 Grain grinding
Currently FERC requires that
110 Leaf blower
the noise level can be no greater
than 55 decibels day/night average 110130 Rock concert
sound level (dBA Ldn) at the closest 125 Jet plane at ramp
noise sensitive area (NSA). Noise Sources: Hearing Loss in Agricultural Workers, National Safety Council, Itasca, IL; League for the Hard of
Hearing, New York, NY.
industry, EPA developed the Natu- Soil Mitigation and Site Restoration Site Location
ral Gas STAR program, which is a Significant soil disturbance and Some locations naturally lend
flexible, voluntary partnership to compaction often occurs during themselves to visibility such as
encourage oil and natural gas com- construction in the temporary work facilities built on a hill or ridge. Lo-
panies to adopt cost-effective tech- area surrounding the compressor cating a compressor station in a less
nologies and practices to reduce site. This can result in reduced crop visible spot or out of direct line-of-
emissions of methane. Many com- yields on agricultural soils and re- sight of neighbors will be less vis-
panies within the industry have duced tree growth on forested soils ibly intrusive.
joined the Gas STAR program and for several years. Steps should be
are in the process of implement- taken to minimize soil compaction Screening
ing methane-reducing practices throughout the construction process Mounding soil, solid fencing, and/or
and technologies. EPA has recently and to mitigate compaction during planting evergreen trees and shrubs
announced the Gas STAR Gold restoration. Such steps include using strategically around the facility will
program to recognize facilities that only low-ground-pressure construc- help further hide and screen a com-
implement a comprehensive suite tion equipment and ceasing opera- pressor site from view. These tech-
of protocols to reduce methane tions when soils are wet and most niques may also help mitigate noise
emissions. The Gas STAR Gold susceptible to compactive forces. emissions from the site.
program is scheduled to launch in After replacement of subsoil mate-
2015. rial and grading of the easement, the Municipal and Zoning
In addition to any state air qual- entire area should be deep ripped Considerations
ity permit requirements, FERC ju- to a depth of 16 inches to loosen While the ability of municipalities
risdictional compressor stations un- the exposed subsoil. The stockpiled to apply local zoning ordinances to
dergo a review under the National topsoil should then be replaced over compressor facilities may be limited
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). the easement, again taking steps and can vary between governmental
The FERC environmental docu- to avoid compaction. The replaced jurisdictions, there are some aspects
ment will address both construction topsoil should then be loosened by of building design and construction
and operational air emissions from deep ripping to a depth of 16 inches, where a municipality may have in-
the compressor station, as well as and on agricultural soils, any rocks put (either via a local zoning regula-
soil, site restoration, and visual im- brought to the surface should be col- tion or cooperative agreements with
pacts. lected and removed. Recovery of full the operator).
productivity of agricultural soils can Design features such as storm-
Light and Traffic sometimes be accelerated by incor- water runoff from the new facility,
Light and traffic in and around porating compost or manure in the building design, lighting, sound
compressor facilities can be sig- topsoil. emissions, and setbacks from exist-
nificant during construction and ing buildings are examples of con-
operation. Traffic is somewhat of an Visual Impact on the Landscape siderations that may be addressed
unavoidable issue because equip- Compressor sites can often create at the local levelagain, either
ment, materials, and workers will a lasting visual impact on the land- through local regulation or coopera-
be traveling to the site every day. A scape once they are built. There tive agreements. Municipal officials
landowner may be able to negotiate are several strategies that can be may also want to consider coordi-
a restriction of heavy truck traffic employed to mitigate these visual nating and/or participating in emer-
and movement of equipment to and impacts and blend a compressor gency response trainings for natural
from the site during certain hours station and related natural gas infra- gas compressors and other pieces
(during the overnight hours, for in- structure into the landscape. Visual of infrastructure located within the
stance). impact considerations can be nego- municipality.
Sky glow or light pollution tiated into a site lease/sale agree-
is a brightening of the night sky ment as one would negotiate value, Right of Condemnation or
caused by artificial light scattered sound emissions, or any other con- Eminent Domain
by small particles in the air such as sideration. Much of this publication discusses
water droplets and dust. Methods issues specific to Pennsylvania.
to reduce light pollution include Building Design
Compressor buildings in historic While many of the issues and
directed lighting and the use of considerations presented in the
shielded light fixtures so that less districts and other visually critical
areas have been built with design publication are universal, important
light escapes to places where it is differences regarding the right of
not wanted or needed. Directed features that mimic surrounding
architecture. In rural areas, a com- condemnation or eminent domain
lighting and shielded light fixtures exist between states. In Penn-
are points that could be addressed pressor building that looks like a
barn or other agricultural structure sylvania, the decision to grant a
in a site lease/sale agreement. gathering system compressor agree-
will be less obtrusive than a con-
ventionally built compressor. ment rests solely with the surface
landowner. Some states (Ohio, for Extensions Role
instance) operate under a com- Penn State Extension provides edu-
mon carrier statute that may al- cational resources for landowners
low condemnation of land for the and other stakeholders about shale
placement of gathering lines and gas development. County extension
related infrastructure as necessary offices may host an educational
and for a public use. In some cases, workshop, discuss leasing arrange-
compressor stations may fit under ments, or refer you to regulatory or
this definition (defined state by legal specialists.
state) and therefore have the ability Although extension educators
to exercise eminent domain for the cannot provide legal advice, they
taking of land to use to build and can provide additional insights
operate a compressor station. about leasing and right-of-way con-
On the other hand, operators siderations.
constructing compressor stations For more information about
as part of the interstate natural gas Marcellus shale, natural gas de-
transmission network are granted velopment, leasing, and pipeline
the right of condemnation once rights-of-way, visit the Penn State
they receive a Certificate of Con- Extension Natural Gas website.
venience and Public Necessity
after completing the FERC review Resources
process. This does not mean that
the landowner should not take an Publication
active role in negotiating compensa- Federal Energy Regulatory Commis-
tion and terms when dealing with sion, An Interstate Natural Gas Fa-
the possibility of condemnation. In cility on My Land? What Do I Need
many cases, a mutual agreement to Know? Washington, D.C.: U.S.
between the landowner and the Government Printing Office,2009.
operator can be reached without
going through an eminent domain guides/citz-guide-gas.pdf.
proceeding. Regardless of the type
of facility, landowners and others Websites
dealing with compressor station Penn State Extension Natural Gas
agreements should seek legal advice Website:
from an experienced oil and gas at- resources/natural-gas
torney in their respective states be-
fore signing any agreement. Pennsylvania Department of Envi-
ronmental Protection (PA DEP) Bu-
reau of Air Quality: www.portal
Put Our Experience to Work for Portions of this publication on pipeline construction
and inspection have been adapted with permission
Your Community from Inside a Natural Gas Compressor Station,
The Penn State Extension Marcellus Edu- Spectra Energy,
cation Team strives to bring you accurate, content/documents/media_resources_pdfs/
up-to-date information on natural gas ex-
ploration and drilling in Pennsylvania. Learn Prepared by Dave Messersmith, extension educator, with
about your rights and choices as a land- contributions by Dan Brockett, extension educator, and
Carol Loveland, education program associate.
owner, a businessperson, a local official, or
a concerned citizen. Discover the resources
available to you.

Penn State Extension

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Learn what extension can do for you. Contact opportunities to minorities, women, veterans,
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