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.”