Under Review: Impact of Expanded Gas Pipeline on City Aqueduct & Public Safety

This story was updated at 3pm on January 20th. We received information from the City of New York regarding their review of the expansion of the Algonquin Pipeline, and its potential impact on the Catskill Aqueduct.

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A natural gas pipeline, which crosses over a major New York City drinking water aqueduct, will be increased in size as part of a multi-state pipeline expansion and replacement project. The “Algonquin Incremental Market Project” is currently under review by federal and state regulators.

The expansion of the Algonquin Pipeline within the Lower Hudson River Valley has attracted attention for several reasons, including the possibility that a new section of the pipeline will enter the grounds of the Indian Point nuclear power facility.

A final environmental review of the four-state pipeline project is expected to be released this week by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. A local group claims they have collected over 26,000 signatures requesting that federal regulators deny approval for the Algonquin project.

Crossing Paths with a NYC Water Tunnel

The Algonquin Pipeline, which delivers gas to Southern New England, crosses over the Catskill Aqueduct near Cortlandt, New York.

The 91-mile long Catskill Aqueduct supplies approximately 40 percent of New York City’s drinking water. The aqueduct runs from the Ashokan Reservoir in the Catskill Mountains, down to a large reservoir in Westchester, and terminates at the Hillview Reservoir in Yonkers.

Hillview then feeds City Tunnels 1 and 2, which bring water into New York City.

The Algonquin’s operator, Texas-based Spectra Energy, is seeking to replace the 26-inch pipeline crossing above the Aqueduct with one that is 42-inches in diameter.

According to federal regulators, “as with the existing pipeline, the new pipeline would be located above the aqueduct and would rest on concrete pads to provide adequate separation and protection for the aqueduct pipe.”

Gas Infrastructure Continues to Expand

High-volume hydraulic fracturing was recently banned in New York State, but expansion of the state’s gas pipeline network continues. Natural gas entering New York is being extracted in a number of western and Gulf Coast states, and, to a growing degree, in the Marcellus Shale region.

According to Spectra, the purpose of the Algonquin project is to expand its existing pipeline system from an interconnection at Ramapo, New York in order to deliver up to 342,000 dekatherms of gas per day to consumers in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.

Roughly 2,600 “average size” homes could be heated for one year with 342,000 dekatherms of gas.

The work proposed for the Algonquin is an extensive upgrade which anticipates growing demand for natural gas across Southern New England. Supply bottlenecks in New York State are contributing to “price volatility” across the region say pipeline developers.

Spectra plans to replace 26.3 miles of existing pipeline; 11.3 miles of new pipeline will also be constructed.

Six existing gas compressor stations in New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island will be upgraded to add more horsepower. Twenty-four meter and regulating stations will be upgraded, and three more M & R stations will be constructed.

Spectra Energy also recently completed a natural gas pipeline from New Jersey to Staten Island and Manhattan.

Questions from Local Government

But as gas infrastructure expands, local residents and government seem more inclined to proceed with caution.

The Westchester, Putnam and Rockland county legislatures have all passed resolutions calling for more information about the environmental and public health impacts of the Algonquin expansion project, and more oversight. For instance, the Rockland County legislature passed a resolution in September stating that:

1.) before permits are issued, an independent air emissions baseline assessment be conducted in the areas directly impacted by the proposed compressor and metering and regulating stations modifications;

2) the pipeline be continually monitored by an independent expert acceptable to industry, local government officials, advocates and the public, funded by Spectra Energy; and

3) results of the continuous monitoring of air, water, land and all other environmental impacts be reported daily to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the EPA, and made available to the public in a transparent manner.

 Feds Issue a Tentative Green Light

In September, the FERC released a draft environmental review of the Algonquin project.

Regulators found that “construction and operation of the Project could result in numerous impacts on the environment.” Wildlife and their habitats would be affected, said FERC, as would 24 acres of New York wetlands and fisheries of “special concern.”

Nonetheless, the agency found that “most impacts would be reduced to less-than-significant levels.”

The New York portion of the Algonquin expansion project crosses 39 waterbodies, including the Hudson River. Those waterbodies are located within 8 “sub-basin” watersheds in Rockland, Westchester and Putnam Counties.

FERC noted in its review that it had received questions from the public about the pipeline’s proximity to the Indian Point nuclear power facility in Westchester County. A new section of the pipeline will run under the Hudson River from Rockland County and reportedly cross Indian Point’s property about a quarter-mile south of the reactors.

Spectra has told FERC that “because of the distance of the proposed project from…[Indian Point] and the avoidance and mitigation measures that it would implement, the proposed route would not pose any new safety hazards” to the power plant.

In November, LoHud reported that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission concluded that the new pipeline crossing Indian Point’s property “will not add significant risks to the safety of the reactors.”

The NRC’s reassurance that a possible pipeline accident on the grounds of Indian Point -such as an explosion- would not be a safety hazard drew criticism.

“It just defies logic,” given the size of the potential impact zone, Westchester Legislator Peter Harckham told LoHud.

Map of New York City's water supply system. Courtesy of NYC Department of Environmental Protection.
Map of New York City’s water supply system. Courtesy of NYC Department of Environmental Protection.

Protecting NYC’s Watersheds & Water Supply Infrastructure

Similarly, federal regulators are saying that “protection measures” implemented by Spectra will ensure that construction and operation of the Algonquin project will not result in “significant impacts” on New York City’s surface water resources.

The Croton, Catskill, and Delaware water supply systems together deliver roughly a billion gallons of water every day to almost half of the state’s population. The Catskill and Delaware systems are located about 50 miles north and northwest of the Algonquin project facilities. However, expansion work on two sections of Algonquin pipeline will take place within the Croton watershed, closer to New York City.

How does Spectra plan to protect the watershed as it carries out pipeline construction?

The company says it has specialized procedures for potential issues like erosion and sediment control, spill prevention and mitigation, “unexpected contamination encounters,” and stormwater management.

The prospect of widening the Algonquin Pipeline as it runs over the Catskill aqueduct seems to have attracted more focused attention from FERC. Federal regulators ordered Spectra to consult with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection to develop a final crossing plan for the Catskill Aqueduct.

“Algonquin should file with the [FERC] Secretary a site-specific crossing plan for the Catskill Aqueduct developed in consultation with the NYC DEP,” wrote FERC’s reviewers.

“At a minimum, the plan should include the location of the proposed pipeline relative to the aqueduct, the proposed construction methods, the timing of construction, any mitigation measures that would be implemented to minimize impacts on the aqueduct, and documentation of consultation with the NYC DEP,” FERC stated in its draft review.

Has Spectra followed through on FERC’s order?

Adam Bosch, Director of Public Affairs for the DEP’s Bureau of Water Supply, told NYER that Spectra “has submitted some preliminary design drawings to DEP, which are currently under review to ensure their proposal for a larger pipe would not pose a threat to our infrastructure or impede our access for regular maintenance to the Catskill Aqueduct.”

“At this point we’re unable to say when our review of their preliminary design would be complete, or if we’re going to require any changes to what they’ve presented,” Bosch concluded.

 Public Hearings this Week

In addition to a final federal approval, the Algonquin project also requires specific permits and approvals from the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation. These include Air Title V permits for the proposed compressor station upgrades, as well as a Water Quality Certification, Stream Disturbance and Freshwater Wetlands permits for portions of the pipeline upgrades.

The DEC has extended the public comment period through February 27th on these applications and draft permits. Comments can be submitted to DEC Project Manager Michael Higgins at AIMProject@dec.ny.gov.

State DEC hearings on the project will be held in Brewster this Wednesday, January 21st, at 6 p.m. Location: Henry H. Wells Middle School Auditorium, 570 Route 312.

And in Stony Point on Thursday, January 22nd, at 6 p.m. Location: Stony Point Community Center, 5 Clubhouse Lane.

The state DEC is also reviewing a separate pipeline that will cut through Broome, Chenango, Delaware, and Schoharie counties. The contested 124-mile Constitution pipeline will ferry natural gas directly from the Marcellus Shale fields in Pennsylvania to New York and, ultimately, other Northeast states.

The Constitution Pipeline was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in December and now awaits final approval from New York State.

 

 

 

 

 

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?

NYER120914_04
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.