Time Is Running Out for Activists to Halt Fracked Gas Pipeline Into New York City, Connecticut, Rhode Island

Unless an extension is granted, concerned citizens have only until September 29 to comment to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission about the Algonquin Pipeline Extension pushing fracked gas through sensitive regions in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island – creating environmental and nuclear hazards.

I am moving to New York City next year, a life change friends are congratulating me about but one that means fracking will be invading my kitchen in the form of the radon that will soon issue from gas jets on Manhattan’s stoves.

The Marcellus Shale, site of the United State’s most frenzied fracking spree, is full of Radium 226 and 228, one of the decay products of which is radon, the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. It used to be that you wouldn’t buy a house if radon was discovered in it. Now here I am, moving into New York City, where “natural gas” – if Marcellus Shale development continues its course – will increasingly come from the Marcellus, ferrying carcinogens into New York City. (Radon decays over longer distances, but the travel time to Manhattan isn’t long enough for that.) Yes, you can get an electric stove to eliminate the problem, but some buildings (like the one I’m moving to) aren’t wired for such conversions, so I’m stuck with a gas stove and the poorer option of venting the radon.

My problem – and that of millions along the pathway of the Algonquin Pipeline, the extension of which will bring hazards like radon exposure, explosions, methane leakage and emissions from the compressor stations that pack the gas for pipeline transport – owes to the facts that a) the United States has no systematic renewable energy program because fossil-fuel corporations have a hammer-lock on federal and local governments, and b) consequently, exploitation of shale formations across the country through high-volume hydraulic fracturing is still moving full-steam ahead.

The Algonquin Pipeline, which now runs from Texas into Massachusetts, is owned by Spectra Energy. Spectra has been planning expansions in the line – it calls this the Algonquin Incremental Market project (AIM.) Sections of the build-out will be 42 inches in diameter (that’s the size of the San Bruno, California, pipeline, which exploded in 2010 killing eight people and destroying 38 homes).

Explosions, as I pointed out in an article on the Algonquin this past May, riddle gas pipelines – there have been almost 8,000 pipeline accidents in the United States between 1986 and spring of 2013. It is beyond unnerving to consider that the Algonquin build-out will intersect two mega-voltage power lines just a few hundred feet from the Indian Point nuclear power plant, and a 40-year accumulation of spent nuclear fuel rods near the Ramapo and Stamford faults (both lie near Westchester, New York). In addition, expansions of compressor stations along the Algonquin expansion route, taking in parts of New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island, will expose people, pets and wildlife to highly toxic emissions. (Health impacts from compressor station emissions include nosebleeds, headaches, dizziness, skin rashes, respiratory, developmental, neurological and cardiovascular problems, leukemia, breast, kidney and liver cancer.)

Report: Plenty of Gas Already

According to a late 2013 report by ISO New England, which monitors the region’s electrical grid, gas capacity for last winter was adequate even at peak demand. Massachusetts energy efficiency programs like MassSave and WMECo have been helping to lower peak demand. According to a study commissioned by the New England States Committee on Electricity (NESCOE), within a low-demand context there is “no need for new infrastructure” like AIM or the Northeast expansion.

But Spectra is driving forward. The proposed expansion includes LNG ports off Massachusetts and Canada’s Maritime Provinces, from which Marcellus shale gas will be exported, triggering further fracking in the Marcellus. This map clearly shows the East Coast port destinations for the gas, together with the four expanded compressor stations.

FERC Public Comments Deadline Sept. 29

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires that all federal agencies incorporate an environmental impact statement (EIS) into their decision-making processes. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is the federal permitting agency for all gas industry projects and issued an EIS for the Algonquin pipeline extension August 6, allowing for public comments until September 29 – that’s less than two months for people to review or be briefed on the report and craft comments.

Stop the Algonquin Pipeline Extension (SAPE), a Westchester-based organization that has fought the pipeline expansion since its inception, charges that FERC’s EIS is “grossly incomplete and premature,” adding, “Virtually no aspect of the DEIS is complete. The deficiencies are pervasive and substantial.” Susan Van Dolsen, cofounder of Stop the Algonquin Pipeline Extension (SAPE), a central organization in an East Coast coalition opposing the pipeline, told Truthout that FERC has omitted crucial information needed to inform the public about the expansion. Major omissions: FERC’s analysis of the risks of constructing a 42-inch gas pipeline near a nuclear plant is incomplete, and surveys of endangered species are marked “Confidential” by Spectra. “The FERC process is fatally flawed,” says Van Dolsen. “The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) should be required to submit a revised Draft Environmental Impact Statement that includes all of the missing information for the public’s review.”

Moreover, Spectra submitted separate reviews of the AIM pipeline project and its “Atlantic Bridge” (export terminal) project rather than submitting them together for a review of their cumulative impacts. This separation of the two projects is what’s called “segmentation” – which has been judged illegal under federal law. “FERC must require Spectra to have the AIM and Atlantic Bridge projects reviewed together rather than piecemeal,” Van Dolsen wrote Truthout in an email. “It’s time for FERC to take a hard look at the growing resistance to these projects in the impacted communities and to respond appropriately.”

Pushing to Extend FERC’S Public Comment Deadline

As I was writing this article, SAPE was about to file for an extension of the FERC public comment period. If the comment period is not extended, and despite a 25,000-signature SAPE petition against the extension, FERC – which almost always approves pipeline projects – is likely to green-light this one. The Algonquin expansion will expose everyone living on the East Coast to the manifold dangers of fracking in the Marcellus Shale and the vast build-outs of the fracking industry.

FERC representatives have written that “approval of the proposed project would result in some adverse environmental impacts; however, most of these impacts would be reduced to less-than-significant levels with the implementation of Algonquin’s proposed mitigation.” It has been up to grassroots activists to push this part of the fossil-fuel establishment to do the right thing. SAPE has been joined in opposing the project and calling for widespread comments on FERC’s EIS by Fighting Against Natural Gas (FANG), a Rhode-Island-based activist group. SAPE and FANG are part of an East Coast coalition that also includes Boston’s Better Future Project.

See SAPE’s website for further information.