We are at “a critical moment in our fight to free New York from fossil fuels,” say environmental activists who convened in Albany this week. They are demanding that state officials deny a permit needed for construction of a natural gas pipeline across four upstate counties.
While high-volume hydraulic fracturing -fracking- was banned last year in New York State for public health reasons, pipelines and other gas infrastructure continue to be built here. Natural gas drilled in other states is being moved through New York, both for local consumption and delivery elsewhere.
A segment of the state’s environmental movement is calling for a complete break with natural gas- due to concerns about greenhouse gas emissions and the impact of gas infrastructure on local communities and ecology.
Thirteen people from six New York counties were reportedly arrested last week as part of a civil disobedience action against the expansion of natural gas storage [and the introduction of liquid petroleum storage] in salt caverns adjacent to Seneca Lake, one of the Finger Lakes.
Activists read verses from Pope Francis’ recent encyclical letter on climate change while blockading the Crestwood gas storage facility on August 4th, said advocacy group We Are Seneca Lake.
The civil disobedience action took place one day after President Obama and the federal EPA announced a plan to set “first-ever” carbon pollution standards for U.S. power plants.
Long-running debate about how natural gas fits in with a clean energy economy
While the President and elected officials across New York State have repeatedly raised the long-term threat posed by climate change and the need to develop a “clean energy” economy, there is no consensus about how to approach natural gas, a fossil fuel.
Proponents of natural gas say it releases significantly lower levels of carbon (than coal, for example) when burned. Natural gas is an abundant and affordable local energy source that can be used as renewable forms of energy -like hydro, wind and solar- expand and become cost-effective, they add.
Opponents charge that methane releases from pipelines and other gas infrastructure pose an enormous risk to the climate. According to the EPA, methane is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted in the U.S. from human activities.
Methane’s lifetime in the atmosphere is much shorter than carbon dioxide, says the EPA, but “pound for pound, the comparative impact of CH4 [methane] on climate change is 25 times greater than CO2 over a 100-year period.”
Nonetheless, reports the EPA, methane emissions in the U.S. decreased by almost 15% between 1990 and 2013. This is partially due to the fact that “emissions decreased from sources associated with the exploration and production of natural gas and petroleum products.”
Fracking banned in NYS, but gas pipeline construction continues
Expansion of natural gas infrastructure throughout New York continues. Indeed, two new gas pipelines -one crossing the Hudson River and the other off the coast of the Rockaways- have recently been completed in New York City.
The proposed Constitution Pipeline, which will move natural gas from fracking fields in Pennsylvania through southern New York State, has already been conditionally approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
As NYER reported in December, the federal approval authorizes pipeline developers to invoke eminent domain in order to obtain access rights from unwilling property owners.
The pipeline will stretch 124 miles, from Susquehanna County, Pa. through hundreds of parcels in New York’s Broome, Chenango, Delaware, and Schoharie counties.
The pipeline will terminate at a compressor station in the town of Wright, Schoharie County, and its contents will be transferred into the existing Tennessee and Iroquois pipelines for transport into New England. The feds have also greenlighted the “Interconnect Project” in Wright.
Pipeline opponents gathering in Albany this week
A coalition of groups including Catskill Mountainkeeper, the New York branch of the Sierra Club and New Yorkers Against Fracking are in Albany this week, demanding that Governor Cuomo and the state Department of Environmental Conservation deny a Water Quality Certificate necessary for construction of the Constitution Pipeline to go forward. The certificate is required by the federal Clean Water Act.
Activists charge that pipeline construction will destroy over 1,000 acres of forests and farmland, clear cut over 700,000 trees, and cross over 277 waterways in upstate New York.
“There is no possible way to tear through the sensitive hills, forests, wetlands, and streams where this pipeline is proposed without threatening water quality and degrading aquatic habitat,” Catskill Mountainkeeper program director Wes Gillingham said in a statement.
Battle over gas storage continues in the Finger Lakes
Seneca Lake is a major tourist destination in the Finger Lakes district, and lies in the heart of New York’s upstate wine region. It also serves as a source of drinking water for an estimated 100,000 area residents.
The storage facility would utilize existing underground caverns in the Syracuse Salt Formation. These caverns were originally excavated by U.S. Salt and other mining companies.
Texas-based Crestwood Midstream already has a methane (natural gas) storage facility in two caverns within the formation. The existing facility connects with the Dominion and Millenium pipelines, which deliver gas from the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania and other drilling sites. Crestwood has received approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to expand methane storage within the caverns.
While the feds have jurisdiction over the methane gas storage portion of the project, the state Department of Environmental Conservation has final say over the storage of LPG, mostly propane and butane. Crestwood is now seeking permission to store about 88.2 million gallons of LPG in the caverns.
Participants in last week’s civil disobedience action at Crestwood ranged in age from 20 to 70 years old. Opponents say that there have been 332 arrests in the eight-month-old campaign against gas storage at Seneca Lake.
Why have some New Yorkers decided to risk arrest?
Joshua Enderle, age 20, who lives in Cuba, Allegany County, made the following statement about his decision to participate in last week’s action at Crestwood:
“By now it is common knowledge that fossil fuels contribute to global climate change and we hold the technology to produce clean and renewable energy that will last generations, but current social, economic, and political systems suppress these advancements and continually allow the reckless exploitation of natural resources as well as threatening the balance of Earth’s life support systems.”
Photo credit: Andrew Kelly/Reuters via The Guardian