June 28, 2012 by SCNCC
Environmentalists lately have focused their attention on the Keystone XL Pipeline Project, the Southern portion of which the Obama administration approved this week. But a lesser known pipeline, which critics say is a clear and present danger to public health and safety, is on its way to New York City.
Like its larger analogue, the New Jersey-New York Expansion Project will increase fossil fuel dependence, aggregate climate change, and comes with a heavy environmental price tag attached. Also known by the name of its planned operator, Houston-based Spectra Energy Corporation, the $1.3 billion Spectra Pipeline will begin in Bayonne, NJ and carry natural gas through Jersey City, under the Hudson River and into Manhattan’s West Village through a transmission line the diameter of a cafe table with the pressure of a fire hose.
A portion of the gas Spectra Energy plans on delivering will be sourced from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region by StatOil and Chesapeake Energy through the infamous extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing. In recent years, the vast proliferation of fracking wells–pumping millions of gallons of pressurized water, sand, and toxic chemicals into shale rock in order to suck out the natural gas within–has reaped a brutal ecological toll on Pennsylvania. There have been instances of water contamination and industrial accidents across the state. New York could be next. The New York Times disclosed earlier this month that Governor Andrew Cuomo plans on fracking New York’s portion of the Marcellus Shale in the state’s Southern Tier.
Gas from the Marcellus is particular in that it is packed with radon, the primary cause of cancer in non-smokers. A recent study from Radioactive Waste Management Associates warns that Marcellus gas contains wellhead concentrations of radon 70 times above average, concluding that the influx of radon from the Spectra Pipeline into an estimated 11 million homes could lead to as many as 30,448 potential new lung cancer deaths.
Ironically, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who pushed a ban on smoking in city parks through the City Council last year, has lauded the pipeline project. Bloomberg claims the Expansion Project is necessary to convert the city’s aging boilers from oil to natural gas, which he and other pipeline proponents say is cleaner. Yet, radon aside, when its extraction process is taken into account, shale gas leaves a carbon footprint greater than oil or even coal, researchers at Cornell University have pointed out.
Rather than going from one fossil fuel to another, environmental advocates are calling for investments in renewable energy. Solar panels installed on New York’s acres of rooftop could meet at least half the city’s peak energy needs. Bloomberg has a deep tax pool at his disposal he could tap to fund such an infrastructural overhaul if he liked but that would mean raising taxes on guy’s like himself. The construction of the Spectra Pipeline has more to do with expanding the market for shale gas than it does with New York’s power or green energy.
At Bloomberg’s request the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission expedited their review process and approved the Expansion Project in May, glossing over more than five thousand public comments–only twenty-two of which were in the pipeline’s favor.
In a Hail Mary to block construction before ground breaks this summer, lawyers for Jersey City where the project is widely opposed by residents who fear a high-pressure pipeline in their neighborhood, filed a petition with FERC this week demanding a rehearing . The petition points out that the commission’s budget is dependent on the fees it collects from the pipelines that it approves. “When FERC makes adjudicative decisions involving the pipeline and energy companies that entirely fund its existence, the agency cannot guarantee it is a ‘neutral and detached judge,” writes Derek Fanciullo representing Jersey City.
The gas and pipeline industries, together with the FERC and Mayor Bloomberg are farting in the public’s face and telling us it smells good. And this gas could literally blow-up. A faulty valve on a pipeline with similar specs to the Spectra’s caused an explosion in suburban San Bruno, CA in 2010 that killed eight people. In Moss Bluff, Texas an explosion at a Spectra storage facility ignited a fire that burned for six and a half days in 2004, forcing residents within a three mile radius to evacuate. The NJ-NY Expansion Project will run through densely populated urban areas in Jersey City and Manhattan. A fire ala Moss Bluff or San Bruno-style blow-up along the Expansion Project’s course could result in thousands of deaths and damage to key infrastructure, including the Jersey Turnpike, a chemical storage plant, NJ Transit tracks, a 911 call center, and Manhattan’s meatpacking district, home to tourist-vacuum High Line park.
As activists in Texas have worked to set-up a blockade against the Keystone XL, their counterparts in New York have launched a campaign of non-violent direct action against the Spectra Pipeline. Earlier this month, approximately 100 members Occupy Wall Street Environmental Solidarity showed up at FERC’s Midtown offices and delivered a letter boldly challenging the agency:
Ground will not be broken on this project without massive public outcry. Construction will not be completed: period. Thousands of New Yorkers see through the greenwashing and care deeply enough about their city and earth to put their bodies on the line to ensure that this gift to the natural gas and pipeline industries never comes to fruition. A well-coordinated, multi-front campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience will make the construction of this pipeline and the continued hydro-fracking of the Marcellus Shale a public relations nightmare.
This Sunday, they’re teaming up with performance artist Reverend Billy Talen and the Stop Shopping Choir to rally those “thousands of New Yorkers” to their cause . At the High Line Ballroom, just blocks from the spot the pipeline is slated to rear its head, the activist will hold a godless gospel show, where the only thing praised will be the earth and the power of people to collectively defend it. From the ballroom they’ll be marching forth and to defend their shores from Spectra’s hellfire. Earthalujah!
Here’s Reverend Billy with more: