Building a massive gas infrastructure is the wrong choice for New York State because it will tie us to dirty and dangerous fossil fuels for generations to come.
In November 2016, the United States reached a significant milestone: our country is now a net exporter of natural gas. This is good news for the gas companies, but it is bad news for New Yorkers, who are being inundated by a massive influx of gas infrastructure projects--like pipelines and compressor stations--traversing the state to meet the demand for natural gas in other countries. While the gas companies increase their profits, New Yorkers will bear the negative impacts from these projects, paying a high price in threats to our health from toxic pollution, poisonous spills, and catastrophic explosions, and in potential harm to our precious waterways, forests, farms, fisheries, and wildlife habitat.
While we have banned fracking in New York State, New Yorkers are still being exposed to the health risks posed by natural gas (whose prime component is methane, also a potent greenhouse gas). Methane is escaping from the thousands of miles of gas pipelines that now cross our state, and the health impacts are particularly severe around the compressor stations that are put in place every 40 to 100 miles to keep gas under pressure as it travels. Tests have shown that the air around compressor stations sometimes contains formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and cancer-causing volatile organic compounds, which can leak out into the atmosphere during regular maintenance.
In fact, many of the health risks posed by natural gas infrastructure are the same as those posed by fracking, and concerns about those risks were a driving force behind the successful campaign that Mountainkeeper and our allies waged to win New York State’s historic fracking ban.
Scientific studies, including the Coming Clean Study in which Mountainkeeper participated, have confirmed "air concentrations of potentially dangerous compounds and chemical mixtures are frequently present at oil and gas production sites."
Mountainkeeper’s team is vigorously fighting the massive invasion of gas infrastructure projects in New York State because spending millions to build these projects would lock us into a deeper dependence on fossil fuels at the very moment when we need to aggressively transition to clean, safe, and renewable energy sources to protect our climate and the health of our families.
And our efforts are having an impact. The strong fight waged by Mountainkeeper and our allies has been a factor in decisions by companies to pull out of two major natural gas projects, effectively shutting them down. In May 2016, Kinder Morgan formally withdrew its federal application for Northeast Energy Direct, a 420-mile pipeline that would have carried Marcellus Shale gas from Pennsylvania across New York State into New England. The Mark V Connector, a pipeline that would have run from Port Jervis, NY and hook up to the Iroquois Pipeline on the Eastern side of the Hudson River, has also been canceled.
Mountainkeeper is currently fighting the following major gas infrastructure projects in our region:
The Constitution Pipeline Company LLC (Constitution) has applied to build a 124-mile long pipeline that would carry fracked natural gas through Broome, Chenango, Delaware, and Schoharie counties in New York and Susquehanna County in Pennsylvania on the way to Canada, endangering communities, forests, farms, and waterways along the way. The path to approval of this pipeline has been a rocky road. First the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) rubber-stamped the project and issued Constitution a certificate of public convenience and necessity. Then the New York State Department of Energy (NYSDEC) denied a vital water quality permit that is required under the Clean Air Act. While the state’s decision dealt a major blow to the project, the Constitution pipeline is not yet dead: in a last-ditch counter attack, Constitution filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals in May 2016 challenging NYSDEC’s denial of the required water permit. Represented by Earthjustice, Mountainkeeper filed as an intervenor to defend the state’s decision on the water quality permit. In November 2016, the court heard arguments in the case and we are now awaiting the Court’s determination.
Spectra Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) Pipeline Expansion Project
The Spectra Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) Pipeline Expansion Project is a high pressure, natural gas pipeline expansion project that spans three New York counties, crosses two fault lines, passes only 105 feet from critical Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant Safety infrastructure, and travels just 400 feet from an elementary school. Despite these potential safety hazards, the pipeline has been allowed to go into production; but Mountainkeeper and our allies are not giving up the fight. We are working to encourage government officials to shut the project down because Spectra deviated from the original project plan that was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
The original proposal called for a 42-inch diameter pipe to run under the Hudson River, but because Spectra had problems putting that pipe in place—and was under pressure from investors to get the pipeline up and running as soon as possible--the company instead resorted to using old, smaller diameter pipelines (one 30-inch and two 24-inch) that already lay under the river to connect to the new, larger 42-inch pipelines being laid on either shore.
The transfer of gas to and from these new large pipelines to the old, smaller ones is an especially hazardous operation that involves releasing significant amounts of gas into the atmosphere on an ongoing basis. Spectra’s significantly altered plan may pose other risks as well, but since no government entity has fully reviewed its potential impacts on pipeline operations, the environment, the Hudson River, or human health and safety, we just don’t know. Mountainkeeper and our allies are calling on Senator Charles Schumer to put pressure on FERC to halt operation of the AIM pipeline immediately.
Millennium Expansion Project
The Millennium Pipeline Company is working on three connected projects that would expand the Millennium pipeline’s capacity to transfer and use natural gas in New York State. These projects are: 1) the Competitive Power Ventures (CPV) Valley Power Plant in Orange County; 2) the Eastern Systems Upgrade (ESU), two new 22,400 horsepower compressor stations in Highland and Hancock, NY; and 3) the Valley Lateral Project (VLC), a 7.8 mile looped pipeline that would connect the new CPV power plant to the main Millennium pipeline. Even though these three projects are in close geographic proximity, FERC is considering each of them individually, without taking into account the cumulative impact of their combined toxic emissions.
Each of these projects is in different states of approval and completion. The CPV Power Plant has been approved by FERC and is under construction, but the project is currently mired in a Federal investigation into government corruption in New York. The VLC pipeline has also been approved by FERC, and the regulatory process for ESU has started. Mountainkeeper and our allies have submitted an Intervener letter to FERC to raise important issues about the problems with these gas infrastructure projects.
In addition, Linden Energy Services is seeking the right to build two natural gas pipelines on public lands owned by Buckingham and Preston Townships in Wayne County, PA that would connect the Tennessee Gas Company’s 300 Line in PA to the Millennium Pipeline in New York. If this project comes to fruition, it would bring yet another compressor station—right across Delaware River in PA—to the Hancock, NY vicinity, increasing the total number of compressor stations sited in this already overburdened small area to three. The regulatory process in PA is different than that in NY, and so the NYSDEC needs to factor this in to its review of the Highland and Hancock compressor stations.
Seneca Lake Gas Storage Facilities
Crestwood Midstream—a diversified energy infrastructure and distribution company based in Houston, TX—owns underground salt caverns located on a 600-acre property on the west bank of Seneca Lake in New York’s Finger Lake region. The company plans to store millions of barrels of liquid petroleum gases (propane and butane; so-called LPG) and methane in these salt caverns, thereby creating a storage and transportation hub for the entire Northeast. The LPG would be transported to and from the caverns by truck, and the methane would be transported via the Millennium pipeline. The company envisions additional expansions of these proposed operations in other empty lakeside salt caverns, but no environmental assessment has considered the cumulative impacts of so much LPG and methane stored in massive amounts in close geographic proximity. The project poses unresolved questions about geological instabilities, slip strike faults, and possible salinization of the lake, which serves as a source of drinking water for 100,000 people. Public opposition to this project is very strong, and the project is on hold until the NYSDEC issues a determination if it will go forward.
New Market Pipeline (Dominion)
Owned by Dominion Transmission Inc. (Dominion), the New Market Pipeline is a 200- mile fracked gas pipeline that would run through central New York near Cooperstown. Unlike other pipeline projects, the proposal is to add three new compressor stations to an existing old pipeline. Such an approach is of great concern because some of the sections of the existing pipeline are over 50 years old, and it is questionable whether they will be able to stand up to the high pressure under which gas will need to travel.
Northern Access Pipeline
The Northern Access Pipeline would carry gas from Pennsylvania to Canada and pass through western New York State. While the project is located outside of the Catskills region, it is yet another example of the oil and gas industry’s efforts to build a massive infrastructure to transport natural gas through New York State.