Activists Make Final Push Against Permit for Upstate Gas Pipeline

Environmental activists are making a final push this week urging state officials to deny a permit needed for construction of a natural gas pipeline across four upstate counties. Decision on the permit—to be issued by the state Department of Environmental Conservation—is expected imminently.

While high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or 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.

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.

Protest against the Constitution Pipeline.
Protest against the Constitution Pipeline. Photo credit: Daily Star

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 proposed route of the Constitution Pipeline is shown in red.
The proposed route of the Constitution Pipeline is shown in red.

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 Make Final Push

A coalition of groups including Catskill Mountainkeeper, the New York branch of the Sierra Club and New Yorkers Against Fracking is demanding that Governor Cuomo and the state DEC 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.

A Long-Running Debate

While President Obama 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.

Earlier this summer, President Obama and the federal EPA announced a plan to set “first-ever” carbon pollution standards for U.S. power plants. That plan envisions a transition toward the use of “cleaner” fuels like gas, and renewable sources of energy like wind, hydro and solar, for power generation.

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 expand and become more affordable, 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.”

NYS Banned Fracking for Public Health Reasons But the Battle Over Gas Pipelines Continues

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.

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Demonstrators at the Crestwood gas storage facility adjacent to Seneca Lake in October, 2014. Photo credit: EcoWatch

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.

constitution pipeline protest
Protest against the Constitution Pipeline. Photo credit: Daily Star

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 proposed route of the Constitution Pipeline is shown in red.
The proposed route of the Constitution Pipeline is shown in red.

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

Activists are also challenging a proposed underground liquid petroleum gas (LPG) facility, and the expansion of natural gas storage, in caverns adjacent to the western shore of Seneca Lake.

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.

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Seneca Lake.

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.”

 

Comments Wanted on New Pipeline Bringing Fracked Gas to New York

Late last year, Governor Andrew Cuomo banned the process of hydraulic fracturing in New York State—but that announcement hasn’t stopped the flow of fracked natural gas into New York from out-of-state sources.

Now, a new 124-mile pipeline, the Constitution Pipeline, is being proposed to ferry natural gas directly from the Marcellus Shale fields in Pennsylvania to New York and, ultimately, other Northeast states.

The project, which will cut through Broome, Chenango, Delaware, and Schoharie counties, was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in December. Now, the project awaits final approval from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

(FERC reviews applications for the construction and operation of natural gas pipelines, but its environmental review is limited to the lands a pipeline crosses. The DEC must evaluate the wider state environmental issues, including water quality, water withdrawal, wetland preservation, and air quality.)

The permits required for construction to begin include: an Air Title V permit for the proposed compressor station expansion in Wright, a Water Quality Certification, a Protection of Waters permit, a Water Withdrawal permit, and a Freshwater Wetlands permit for state-protected wetlands and adjacent areas for the pipeline installation.

As part of this process, the DEC will host a series of public hearings about the project. They will take place as follows:

Binghamton:
Monday, January 12, 2015
6:00pm
East Middle School Auditorium
167 East Frederick Street
Binghamton, NY 13904

Oneonta:
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
6:00pm
SUNY Oneonta Lecture Hall IRC #3
108 Ravine Parkway

Cobleskill:
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
6:00pm
SUNY Cobleskill, Bouck Hall Theater
State Route 7

In addition, comments will also be accepted in writing or email through February 27, 2015. Citizens should submit them to:

Stephen M. Tomasik
DEC – Division of Environmental Permits
625 Broadway, 4th Floor
Albany, NY 12233-1750
dec.sm.constitution@dec.ny.gov

Previous hearings about the Constitution Pipeline have been well-attended: A FERC hearing in Oneonta last April drew more than 400 people, while a hearing in Richmondville drew more than 300.

Since December 12, 2014, the Constitution Pipeline has filed formal eminent domain proceedings against 55 landowners along the pipeline’s proposed route.

 

Upstate Constitution Pipeline Receives Federal Approval

Key Points:

  • A new natural gas pipeline has been approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The pipeline will ferry gas from the Marcellus Shale fields in Pennsylvania through four New York counties.
  • The FERC approval authorizes pipeline developers to invoke eminent domain in order to obtain access rights from unwilling property owners.
  • Opponents are concerned that the pipeline could incentivize increased gas drilling, including fracking, in the Marcellus and Utica shales in western New York.
  • Remaining approvals from NYS DEC could determine whether the pipeline construction moves forward.

 


A $683-million natural gas pipeline stretching from Pennsylvania into New York received a final go-ahead from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last week.
If the remaining approvals are obtained from other federal and state agencies, the pipeline could be built and operational by winter 2015.

The Constitution Pipeline is a joint venture between Williams Companies, Cabot Oil & Gas, Piedmont Natural Gas, and WGL Holdings. [Williams Companies is also the developer of the Rockaway Pipeline in New York City]. When complete, it will stretch 124 miles, from the Marcellus Shale fracking fields in Susquehanna County, Pa. through hundreds of parcels in New York’s Broome, Chenango, Delaware, and Schoharie counties.

FERC also greenlighted the Wright Interconnect Project, a compressor station in the town of Wright, in Schoharie County. The Constitution Pipeline would terminate at that facility, and its contents would be transferred into the existing Tennessee and Iroquois pipelines for transport into New England.

Controversially, the FERC approval of Constitution also authorizes its developers to invoke eminent domain in order to buy access rights for the subterranean pipeline from unwilling property owners. The Albany Times Union reported this weekend that property owners along the pipeline’s path have already received letters stating “that they have until Wednesday to accept offered prices before developers take them to court to force such sales for possibly less money.”

Final approval of the Constitution Pipeline lies in the hands of Pennsylvania and New York state regulators, as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation will review applications for an air quality emissions permit required by the compressor station in the town of Wright. The pipeline will also need to secure a water-quality certification, a protection-of-waters permit, a water-withdrawal permit and a freshwater-wetlands permit for crossing state-protected wetlands from the DEC.

The Pro-Pipeline Perspective

The proposed route of the Constitution Pipeline is shown in red.
The proposed route of the Constitution Pipeline is shown in red.

The Constitution Pipeline is designed to transport 650,000 decatherms of natural gas per day, enough to power approximately 3 million homes in the Northeast.

According to the developers, the project is necessary because existing pipelines in the region are effectively maxed out, causing price spikes in natural gas and electricity in New York and New England.

Additionally, Williams and partners claim that the pipeline will be an economic boon for New York communities. The economic analysis produced by the project leads indicates that the construction phase would result in $130 million in new labor income, with approximately $26 million (or 20 percent) of that going to residents of the region.

During the construction phase, Constitution estimated that the workforce will be comprised of five teams of 260 workers totaling up to 1,300 new construction jobs. However, they note, only “approximately 25 percent of the construction workforce will be hired locally (i.e., within the 5-county project area).”

Pipeline Protests

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Shale gas well being drilled in a state forest in Tioga County, PA. Pipeline opponents worry that the Constitution Pipeline approval will incentivize fracking in New York State. Photo credit: John Amos/Creative Commons.

The project has not been unanimously supported. The FERC document lists concerns from a range of homeowners, farm operators, and organizations, including Catskill Mountainkeeper, Clean Air Council, Delaware-Otsego Audubon Society, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and Sierra Club, as well as grassroots opposition group, Stop the Pipeline.

StP claims not only that the pipeline is unnecessary, but that the costs to the environment will be too great to justify its construction. They argue that the pipeline will reduce home values, raise homeowners insurance, increase truck traffic on rural roads, and harm natural resources.

The pipeline’s own Environmental Impact Statement notes that the 124-mile pipeline will cross 289 bodies of water and 36 miles of interior forest habitat, and construction will impact 95 acres of wetlands. Stop the Pipeline adds that 33 miles of the pipeline will run through agricultural districts.

Many landowners object to Constitution’s use of eminent domain to obtain construction rights of way. While some landowners have accepted payment for granting easements, others have refused to allow surveyors to enter their parcels or retained lawyers to help negotiate higher payments. Stop the Pipeline activists have vowed to go to court to fight the taking of private land and to challenge the decision by FERC to authorize the construction.

During construction, the pipeline company would require construction rights of way ranging from 125 feet wide in agricultural uplands to 75 feet wide in wetlands. The permanent right of way will be 50 feet wide.

Additionally, representatives for Stop the Pipeline assert that the federal environmental review is flawed because it discounts the potential of methane leaks from the pipeline. Methane is a greenhouse gas that drives man-made climate change.

StP hopes that the NYS DEC review process will be enough to stop the pipeline in its tracks. Anne Marie Garti, a lawyer and co-founder of the opposition group, told a news outlet that the DEC “is empowered to conclude that the pipeline, and all of its cumulative impacts, would violate state water quality standards. A denial of the 401 certificate (the Clean Water Act certification) would stop the project from moving forward.”

The Federal Ruling

The Federal commissioners flatly stated that they disagreed with Stop the Pipeline’s assertion that the project is unnecessary. The commissioners also said that the pipeline planners have adopted steps to minimize adverse economic impacts on landowners affected by the project.

“If constructed and operated in accordance with applicable laws and regulations, the projects will result in some adverse environmental impacts, but … these impacts will be reduced to less-than-significant levels with the implementation of Constitution’s and Iroquois’ proposed mitigation and staff’s recommendations.”

In regards to the eminent domain decision, FERC states: “While we are mindful that Constitution has been unable to reach easement agreements with many landowners, for purposes of our consideration under the Certificate Policy Statement, we find that Constitution has taken sufficient steps to minimize adverse economic impacts on landowners and surrounding communities.”

The FERC served in a coordinating role with relevant federal and state agencies in developing its final Environmental Impact Statement. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Highway Administration, and the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets participated in the preparation of the EIS.

Is New York Next in Line for Fracking?

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Location of Marcellus shale formation in New York State. Photo credit: USGS.

The FERC approval comes as New York has yet to decide whether to allow for hydraulic fracturing, particularly in the gas-rich Southern Tier, which is part of the Marcellus Shale. Governor Andrew Cuomo said in October that a decision could come by year’s end. (Cuomo has taken no public position on the Constitution Pipeline; it has been endorsed by Senator Chuck Schumer.)

Opponents are concerned that the pipeline could incentivize increased gas drilling, including the use of high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus and Utica shales in western New York.

Garti told the Times Union that the Constitution pipeline is critical should New York decide to permit fracking. “In order to frack New York, they need this pipeline. This is where the gas is.”

According to the developers, the pipeline will transport natural gas that has already been produced in Pennsylvania, and is “not dependent upon nor does it require the development of new natural gas wells along the project’s proposed path.”

In FERC’s final approval, they noted that “hydraulic fracturing is currently restricted in New York and there is no basis to conclude that our approval of this pipeline will lead to changes to those restrictions.” In addition, “there are more than 5,000 miles of existing natural gas pipelines across New York State … [I]f hydraulic fracturing were to be allowed in New York, any of these pipelines could serve to transport newly developed supplies.”

Either way, there are several more hurdles to clear before construction can begin. The DEC is expected to hold public hearings on the Constitution Pipeline in early 2015 before issuing any permit, and it is anticipated that the understaffed agency could take months to review comments.