Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Another Natural Gas Controversy

From Gotham Gazette

Melissa Checker Aug 2010

While New Yorkers hotly debate the safety of hydraulic fracturing, a controversial method for extracting natural gas from upstate rock formations, a second natural gas issue has quietly started to simmer.

Houston-based Spectra Energy filed a preliminary federal application to construct approximately 20 miles of new natural gas pipeline across northern Staten Island and southwestern New Jersey, under the Hudson River and into Manhattan's trendy meatpacking district where it will connect to Con Edison lines around Gansevoort Street and the West Side Highway.

The project will expand and diversify an existing natural gas pipeline system between Staten Island and New Jersey. According to a Con Edison spokesperson, Chris Olert, the expansion will help meet growing customer demand for natural gas and improve the reliability of gas delivery. Currently, Con Edison delivers 225 billion cubic feet of natural gas a year to residential and commercial buildings. New pipelines will increase that capacity by 8 million cubic feet per day. In addition, Spectra estimates the project will create 100 new construction jobs when it launches in 2012 and 500 in 2013, when it goes online.

However, some communities along the new pipeline route, which include Staten Island's North Shore, Bayonne, Jersey City and Manhattan's West Village, have rallied to protest the project.
Safety ConcernsAlthough natural gas explosions are relatively rare (the US Department of Transportation reported only 47 serious incidents across all US pipeline systems in 2009), they can be dangerous. Project opponents point out that just this summer, natural gas leaks led to explosions and deaths in Michigan, Texas and South Los Angeles. Closer to home, last February, a natural gas explosion in Middletown, Connecticut killed five people and in 1994 a natural gas pipeline ruptured in Edison, New Jersey, causing damage in excess of $25 million.

Competing for Space
Part of the problem is that in dense urban areas, pipelines vie for space with other infrastructure. Last month, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection expressed concerns that the pipeline would have serious impacts on water and sewer lines along its routes in both Manhattan and Staten Island. In a January letter to U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy argued the pipeline would complicate city's ongoing efforts to service its aging water and sewer infrastructure.

On Staten Island's North Shore, which has the borough's highest asthma rates, proposed project construction would re-route heavy truck traffic from Richmond Avenue to residential streets. Traffic effects are less clear where the pipeline crosses the West Side Highway, but at this month's scoping meeting, Gonzalez promised to "minimize traffic interruption."

A Federal Energy Regulatory Commission spokesperson confirmed that it will accept comments by phone, mail and email until Spectra submits its formal application, which they project for December. Until then, Spectra stated that it would continue to adjust its route and respond to public input. For instance, just before the scoping meetings, they announced that they were considering moving the pipeline from Staten Island's heavily trafficked Richmond Terrace into the water around Shooters Island -- a World War I shipyard turned bird sanctuary.

Read the full article.

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