Thursday, October 27, 2011
Pipeline Plan Stirs Debate on Both Sides of Hudson
The $850 million project, developed by Spectra Energy of Houston, calls for 15 miles of new pipeline to run from Staten Island to Bayonne and Jersey City before crossing into Manhattan. Five miles of pipeline between Staten Island and Linden, N.J., would also be replaced.
The new pipeline, the first major one to be built in New York City in decades, has drawn firm support from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and barely a shrug from environmental groups. But with a decision by federal regulators expected early next year, an opposition campaign is gaining some heft. Critics of the natural gas drilling method known as fracking have also leapt into the fray, arguing that the pipeline would abet an environmental ill by carrying some gas extracted through fracking.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, whose approval is needed for the pipeline’s construction, is receiving public comment through Monday.
At a raucous public meeting it held last week in Greenwich Village, more than 300 antidrilling and Occupy Wall Street protesters joined forces to assail the project.
“You’re about to mainline an ecological disaster for the rest of the state,” the actor Mark Ruffalo, the celebrity face of the antifracking movement, said to a standing ovation. “I’m begging you people to stand up for something that’s bigger than our bureaucratic system.”
Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy of Jersey City has steadily denounced the project, saying it would threaten some prime development areas and jeopardize the safety of many of the city’s nearly 250,000 residents. He also asks why six miles of the pipeline would run through Jersey City but only graze Manhattan, given that New York City has greater fuel needs and would be the main beneficiary.
“We run all the risk, and our friends to the east get all the benefit,” Mr. Healy said in an interview on Tuesday.
In the West Village, residents only recently began mobilizing against the pipeline, citing accidental gas line explosions elsewhere, like the one that killed eight people and burned down dozens of homes last year in San Bruno, Calif.
Many seem incredulous that such a project could even skirt their upscale neighborhood, where the meatpacking district was recently gentrified, lush green spaces have been added and ground has been broken on a new Whitney Museum of American Art.
“Why would you develop Hudson River Park if you were going to do this?” Christy Robb, who lives on West Fourth Street, asked in an interview.
Spectra points out that the project has undergone several revisions to meet safety concerns and that it now exceeds federal requirements for pipeline safety. “We’re committed to building one of the safest pipelines in the country,” Marylee Henley, a spokeswoman for the company, said.
The federal energy commission has already concluded in an environmental review that any adverse impacts could be reduced “to less than significant” levels and has recommended approval.
Mayor Bloomberg supports the pipeline as a cleaner and greener alternative to dirty heating oil, which thousands of buildings are expected to phase out under tightened city regulations over the next few years. While some will simply switch to a cleaner oil, others are expected eventually to make the transition to natural gas, which creates fewer emissions than oil and is now at historically low prices.
“In terms of cleaning up the city’s energy supply, this is a great investment,” Mr. Bloomberg’s deputy for operations, Caswell F. Holloway, said of the pipeline.
New York City officials call the need for additional natural gas supplies critical, with two other interstate pipelines connecting to the city’s underground distribution grid already operating at or near full capacity.
Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey expressed “serious concerns” about the pipeline early this year but has not taken a public position on the project, which is expected to create 1,400 new construction jobs but will also pass by some highly populated residential neighborhoods, particularly in Jersey City.
The Spectra pipeline, up to 42 inches in diameter, would cross the Hudson River from Hoboken to the West Village, connecting with Consolidated Edison’s distribution system beneath West Street via the Gansevoort Peninsula. It will range from 6 to 200 feet below ground.
Spectra says the pipeline will be built in segments of 200 feet each. Construction will rip up roads and disrupt traffic for weeks at a time, the company said, but over 60 percent of the pipeline will be laid in areas where industrial infrastructure, like other pipelines and railroad tracks, already exists above and below ground.
The pipeline would transport up to 800 million cubic feet of gas a day. The company says that 20 percent of the gas has already been reserved by Con Edison to meet the demand in New York City and that the rest will be available to the metropolitan region as demand rises.
Gusti Bogok, a West Village neighbor and a member of the Sierra Club’s Atlantic chapter, said that natural gas posed dangers, including radon contamination, and that New York should be moving toward renewable energy sources rather than creating more demand for a fossil fuel.
“We need a comprehensive plan with different options — biofuels, energy reduction programs, retrofitting,” she said. “That’s where the effort needs to go.”