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.

 

NYS Health Commissioner: I would not let my family live in a community with fracking

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has just issued the following statement.

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NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH COMPLETES REVIEW OF HIGH-VOLUME HYDRAULIC FRACTURING

Acting DOH Commissioner Zucker Recommends Activity Should Not Move Forward in New York State

DEC Commissioner Martens Will Issue a Findings Statement Early Next Year to Prohibit High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing

The state Department of Health has completed its public health review of high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) and Acting DOH Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker recommended that high-volume hydraulic fracturing should not move forward in New York State. Dr. Zucker announced his findings and recommendations today at a Cabinet Meeting in Albany.

“I have considered all of the data and find significant questions and risks to public health which as of yet are unanswered,” said Dr. Zucker. “I think it would be reckless to proceed in New York until more authoritative research is done. I asked myself, ‘would I let my family live in a community with fracking?’ The answer is no. I therefore cannot recommend anyone else’s family to live in such a community either.”

In 2012, Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens asked the DOH Commissioner to conduct a review of the draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement for High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing (SGEIS). Dr. Zucker’s report fulfills that request.

As a result of Dr. Zucker’s report, Commissioner Martens stated at the Cabinet Meeting today that he will issue a legally binding findings statement that will prohibit HVHF in New York State at this time.

“For the past six years, DEC has examined the significant environmental impacts that could result from high-volume hydraulic fracturing,” DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said. “DEC’s own review identified dozens of potential significant adverse impacts of HVHF. Further, with the exclusion of sensitive natural, cultural and historic resources and the increasing number of towns that have enacted bans and moratoria, the risks substantially outweigh any potential economic benefits of HVHF. Considering the research, public comments, relevant studies, Dr. Zucker’s report and the enormous record DEC has amassed on this issue, I have directed my staff to complete the final SGEIS. Once that is complete, I will prohibit high-volume hydraulic fracturing in New York State at this time.”

DEC will incorporate the findings of the public health review into the Final SGEIS, which will be released with a response to public comments early next year. A minimum of 10 days later, Commissioner Martens will issue the findings statement prohibiting HVHF. This action will conclude the State Environmental Quality Review Act process for HVHF.

DOH’s review found significant uncertainties about: the adverse health outcomes that may be associated with HVHF; the likelihood of occurrence of adverse health outcomes; and the adequacy of mitigation measures to protect public health. DOH’s report concludes that it will be years until science and research provide sufficient information to determine the level of risk HVHF poses to public health and whether those risks can be adequately mitigated. Given the red flags raised by current studies, absent conclusive studies that disprove health concerns, the report states the activity should not proceed in New York State.

In conducting its public health review, DOH reviewed and evaluated scientific literature, sought input from outside public health experts, engaged in field visits and discussions with health and environmental authorities in nearly all states where HVHF activity is taking place, and communicated with local, state, federal, international, academic, environmental and public health stakeholders. DOH’s review can be found at: http://www.health.ny.gov/.

At the Cabinet meeting, Governor Cuomo thanked the Commissioners and their respective departments for their work.

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Decision Time: Is NYS About to Allow Fracking?

Governor Andrew Cuomo reiterated Monday that his administration will take a “clear” position on high-volume hydraulic fracturing by the end of the year. The Cuomo administration says it will also release a long awaited Department of Health study regarding the public health impacts of fracking.

A statewide moratorium on the controversial drilling practice has existed for the last six years, but that may be about to change.

One possibility is an “in-between solution,” in which the Governor leaves the decision on fracking up to individual town boards. This could stop or heavily delay fracking in many New York communities.

Opponents of fracking say that communities without well-defined zoning ordinances, or who do not have strong local governments, could end up with fracking even if they don’t necessarily want it.

Elected Officials Call for a 3 to 5 Year Moratorium

Today in Syracuse, a statewide non-partisan group of more than 850 elected officials from all 62 counties, Elected Officials to Protect New York (EOPNY), released a letter calling on Governor Cuomo to enact a minimum three to five year moratorium on fracking.

“We need to be heard at this crucial moment,” wrote the elected officials to Cuomo. “We have reached out to you several times since our founding in June 2012, spurred by unprecedented levels of concern by our constituents over this industry. Their concerns, and ours, are well-founded and have not abated.”

The letter, from both current and retired elected officials, outlines “key areas of concern about negative impacts to public health, the environment, socioeconomic issues, [and] increasing evidence that drilling and fracking exacerbate climate change” and speaks to “the need for cumulative, comprehensive studies.”

What do New Yorkers think?

Over half, 56 percent, of residents oppose fracking in New York State, according to a survey commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council. Thirty-five percent of residents are in favor of allowing the practice.

The survey, carried out by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz and Associates (FM3) in September, had a +/- 4 percent margin of error.

Surveyors found that almost three-quarters, seventy-three percent, of New York State residents supported the current temporary ban on fracking until “scientific studies of its safety are conducted, and until the Department of Environmental Conservation creates rules to ensure fracking can be conducted safely.”

Therein lies the dilemma. Governor Cuomo has stated repeatedly that he will follow the recommendations of his about-to-be released Department of Health study. And if that study says there is a way in which fracking can be done safely, it is reasonable to assume the Governor will proceed.

Research for the Public to Consider

A number of studies have been released in recent weeks about the potential impacts of fracking.

Last week, “Concerned Health Professionals of New York,” which is led by Dr. David O. Carpenter, Director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany’s School of Public Health, released a statistical evaluation of approximately 400 peer-reviewed studies on the impacts of shale gas development.

The group claims that 96 percent of all papers published on health impacts associated with shale gas development “indicate potential risks or adverse health outcomes.”

Fracking poses a real threat to local water supplies, the group argues. Almost three-quarters, 72 percent, of original research studies on water quality “indicate potential, positive association, or actual incidence of water contamination,” they report.

Concerned Health Professionals of New York is similarly urging Governor Cuomo to enact a three to five year moratorium on fracking. They have just updated and re-released their compendium of scientific, medical and media findings related to fracking.

Finally, a study released today by the NRDC found that a “growing body of scientific evidence shows that people both near and far from oil and gas drilling are exposed to fracking-related air pollution that can cause at least five major types of health impacts. This includes respiratory problems, birth defects, blood disorders, cancer and nervous system problems.”

The NRDC says they have conducted “the most comprehensive analysis of scientific studies to-date on the health impacts from fracking related air pollution.”

If not from fracking, where should our energy come from?

Residents surveyed by FM3 in September were asked which types of energy should be used more in New York. There is major support for increasing the use of renewable sources of energy, especially solar.

Here are the energy sources that interested New Yorkers most, and least.

  • Solar, 92%
  • Wind, 89%
  • Natural gas, 81%
  • Hydropower, 76%
  • Coal, 40%
  • Nuclear, 38%
  • Fracking, 29%

 

Tell us what you think about fracking and state energy policy, and we’ll keep you posted as events unfold in Albany.

 

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.

State’s Enviro Groups Launch New Offensive Against Fracking

A coalition of New York State environmental and anti-fracking organizations is announcing the launch of the ‘Not One Well’ social media/advertising campaign today.

The groups -which include chapters of national environmental organizations like the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council- say they are calling on Governor Cuomo to “honor his commitment to listen to the science, which mandates imposing a minimum three to five year moratorium on fracking in New York State.”

The groups are citing a July, 2014 Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings released by Concerned Health Professionals of New York, which discusses potential issues associated with high volume hydraulic fracturing. These include:

  • Air pollution
  • Water contamination
  • Inherent engineering problems that “worsen with time”
  • Radioactive releases
  • Occupational health and safety hazards
  • Noise pollution, light pollution and stress
  • Earthquake and seismic activity
  • Abandoned and active oil and natural gas wells (as pathways for gas and fluid migration)
  • Flood risks
  • Threats to agriculture and soil quality
  • Threats to the climate system
  • “Inaccurate” jobs claims, “increased” crime rates, and “threats” to property value and mortgages
  • “Inflated” estimates of oil and gas reserves and profitability
  • Disclosure of serious risks to investors
  • Medical and scientific “calls for more study and more transparency”

 

A de-facto moratorium on high volume hydraulic fracturing currently exists across New York State. Governor Cuomo has stated that he will make a decision as to whether to permit the practice by the end of the year. Cuomo has been criticized for his lack of definitive action on fracking during his first term.

The Governor’s office had previously floated the idea of allowing at least some counties in the state’s Southern Tier – Allegany, Broome, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Chemung, Delaware, Steuben, and Tioga counties- to determine independently if they wished to allow fracking. The Southern Tier lies above some of the state’s richest gas reserves.

The idea proved highly controversial and has not been pursued publicly since then.

The groups launching “Not One Well” argue that there are other ways to meet New York’s energy and economic development needs. They say there is a “growing movement of New Yorkers who support renewable energy as the long-term sustainable alternative to fracking.”

The groups plan to rally outside of the Governor’s State of the State address in January.

Member organizations of the “Not One Well” campaign include:

  • Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Sierra Club
  • Riverkeeper
  • Food & Water Watch
  • Environmental Advocates of New York
  • Frack Action
  • NYPIRG
  • Citizen Action
  • Catskill Mountainkeeper
  • Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy
  • Citizens Campaign for the Environment

 

State’s Lead Environmental Regulator Says He Will Not be Leaving

This story has been updated.

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Contrary to what some environmental advocates claim, state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner, Joseph Martens, says he is not leaving the agency. An employee at the DEC, who is also a union representative, told NYER that employees had also heard rumors last week that Martens was stepping down.

A spokesman for the agency, Thomas Mailey, told NYER that he spoke with Commissioner Martens directly, and that Martens confirmed he is staying at the DEC. Martens has been commissioner since 2011.

The perceived threat of a leadership change at the DEC had heightened concerns about Governor Cuomo’s next steps regarding high volume hydraulic fracturing.

The Governor has been criticized for not taking a clear position on fracking during his first term in office, despite a public review process that began in 2009. Over 13,000 New Yorkers submitted comments in response to the state’s initial review of the environmental impacts of fracking. A revised impact statement was released by the DEC in 2011.

A statewide moratorium remains in place while the Department of Health continues to work on a study of the public health impacts of fracking. Governor Cuomo stated during his one gubernatorial debate that a decision on the practice would be made by the end of the year.

The DEC is the agency that would issue drilling permits if the state gives the go-ahead. It would also be responsible for monitoring fracking operations in order to protect public and environmental health. The agency has lost over 800 employees since 2008.

Court Rules NYS Communities Can Ban Fracking

The Associated Press reported this morning that:

New York’s top court has ruled that local officials can approve zoning laws to ban hydraulic fracturing within their borders.

The state Court of Appeals…affirmed a lower court ruling that state oil and gas law doesn’t trump the authority of local governments to control land use.

The A.P. notes that, according to drilling opponents, more than 170 towns in New York State have passed bans or moratoriums on activities related to high-volume hydraulic fracturing. The effort by local communities to restrict fracking has grown as New York State continues to weigh whether to permit the practice.

Fracking Opponents on the Offensive This Week in NYS

Two major anti-fracking actions in New York State are planned for today, May 22nd.

Demonstrators will be present this morning at the Democratic State Convention at the Hilton Long Island in Melville. Governor Cuomo and other Democratic elected officials are expected to attend the convention in preparation for the mid-term November 2014 elections.

Activists say they are demanding that New York ban high-volume hydraulic fracturing (a statewide moratorium is currently in place); stop the expansion of oil and gas infrastructure and pipelines throughout the state; and veto a proposed liquid natural gas port off the Long Island coast.

Residents and local groups concerned about fracking will also rally outside of President Obama’s visit Thursday to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Organizers say that the rally will highlight that Obama’s support of natural gas and fracking is contradictory to his promise to address climate change because of new information on methane leaks from fracked wells.

The action is supported by the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce and local Brewery Ommegang. Some businesses in Cooperstown have joined a statewide coalition of businesses against fracking, arguing that the practice “would put tourism and the regional economy at risk.”

Also in the Finger Lakes, some local residents are fighting a recently approved plan to increase natural gas storage capacity at the Seneca Lake Storage Facility.

The project calls for converting two abandoned interconnected salt caverns, which were formerly used for propane storage, to natural gas storage,” said a local news report.

On the Move in Albany

Fracking opponents in New York State are also active on the legislative front.

A bill that would require utilities to “monitor and mitigate” radon levels in delivered natural gas passed the State Assembly’s Health Committee last week, and has moved on to Codes.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas found in soils, rock, and water throughout the U.S. Radon is also a known human carcinogen.

Activists and some legislators point out that as new pipelines are constructed in New York, there will be an increase in gas coming from Marcellus Shale drill sites in Pennsylvania. The state already restricts the re-use (such as road spreading) of fracking waste from the Marcellus Shale because of concerns about radioactivity levels.

The legislation, which has at least 18 sponsors in the Assembly, argues that, “natural gas may be coming to New York State from sources with high levels of radioactivity… It is the intent of this act to prevent levels of radon and its radioactive progeny from exceeding current levels in gas distributed to residential and other consumers.”

And Rochester-based WXXI News (public radio & TV) reports that the Democratic minority conference in the State Senate released four bills last Tuesday that would “ban fracking waste from being shipped into the state for treatment or disposal, eliminate the waste from being used to melt ice off of roads and bar treatment facilities and landfills from accepting the byproduct.”