Frack opponents fight back by filing suit, blocking dig

Three anti-pipeline protesters on Sept. 6 briefly blocked a construction shovel from digging into Gansevoort Peninsula. Photo by Liza Béar

BY LIZA BéAR  |   Saying the Spectra natural gas pipeline — now being constructed underneath Hudson River Park at Gansevoort Peninsula — poses grave dangers to the West Village and the city at large, neighborhood activists and environmentalists are ratcheting up their protests.

Last Thursday, a five-person blockade prevented a digging machine from operating on the Gansevoort construction site. In addition, a lawsuit has been filed in State Supreme Court, seeking a temporary restraining order to force Spectra Energy Corp to cease construction.

Work on the pipeline began in July after Spectra subsidiaries Texas Eastern Transmission LP and Algonquin Gas Transmission LLC got a green light from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in June, over the objections of the environmental group Sane Energy Project and others.

Prime environmental concerns over the pipeline are the potential dangers of leaks and explosions and the presence of radon in the natural gas, which is “fracked” gas being transported from the Marcellus Shale. Extracted by hydrofracking, the gas is up to 70 times more radioactive than the natural gas from Texas and Louisiana that New York currently uses: It’s methane and contains radon. Radon is known as a “sink gas” because it’s heavy; it has a half-life of 3.85 days and takes two months to break down completely into (still-radioactive) polonium and lead.

However, Mary Lee Hanley, a Spectra spokesperson, said in an e-mail, “Texas Eastern, a division of Spectra, has measured the levels of radon in its system and in the natural gas supplied by Marcellus Shale producers. These samples were collected and analyzed by independent experts. The samples confirmed that the level of radon in this natural gas is at or below the levels assumed in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy reports, and the level presents no significant health risk. These findings and expert reports were submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in July 2012 and are available on the FERC Web site.”

The direct action by Monica Hunken, Sandra Koponen, Lopi LaRoe and two other activists took place as part of the Sept. 6 morning rally organized by the newly formed Occupy the Pipeline, an offshoot of Occupy Environmental Solidarity. (The rally was the first of two that day; the second, at 6 p.m., was twice the size.)

At the first rally, about 40 protesters, many wearing white lab coats or hazmat suits, stood behind the white outer lines on either side of the highly trafficked Hudson River Park bike lane, holding large orange mesh banners saying, “No Pipeline,” and cardboard signs bearing the radioactive symbol. They handed out fliers to joggers, skateboarders and cyclists.

As the crowd chanted, “New York City, Shut It Down, New York Ain’t No Fracking Town,” at 9:30 a.m., Hunken, Koponen and LaRoe waited for the backhoe to dump its load of rubble into a parked red pickup truck, then crossed the low concrete wall around the construction site, ran across the dirt and swiftly ensconced themselves right under the machine’s raised scoop, holding up signs and signaling to the operators not to swing down again. When asked to leave by a security guard and a park official, they refused. About eight police officers arrived shortly and discussed the situation with a National Lawyers Guild liaison while the three women, who had by now been joined by two men, held a mic check.

“I’ve never been so angry so early in the morning,” said Hunken. “I’m sick and tired of this filthy extraction industry taking and taking…destroying property values, our water, our homes.”

Koponen, a musician who lives at 14th St. and Seventh Ave., said, “I am here because I don’t want to live where the water is contaminated, the air is unbreathable and people don’t care for the environment. We should resist using fossil fuels, divest from fossil fuels and put it into energy that doesn’t destroy the planet.”

After all five had spoken, they stood up and left the construction site, but almost immediately Hunken and Koponen returned and were promptly placed under arrest and taken away in patrol cars. They were charged with trespassing and released from the Sixth Precinct after two hours.

On Wed., Sept. 12, activists returned to Gansevoort for more protest actions. Between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., six activists skipped past the security guard and entered the Spectra construction site. According to reports, some of them chained themselves to various equipment with bike locks. One man, Dave Publow, climbed onto the arm of a Caterpillar at the peninsula’s far end; firefighters used a ladder to remove him, and he was then arrested. LaRoe climbed onto the rocks at the property’s edge and held a “No Spectra” sign; she was handcuffed and carried away in a police car. The four others were also arrested.

Driving the natural gas “gold rush” are two assertions: that natural gas is clean, and that supplies are basically inexhaustible.

Among the public health hazards cited by environmentalists are the hydrofracking process itself, which was developed by Halliburton. The fracking fluid injected into a minimum of 1.7 million gallons of water per well contains 596 toxic chemicals, including benzene, toluene and glycol ethers, which are known carcinogens. This toxic fluid is pumped at high pressure into the ground and used to break up the shale. A high percentage of these toxic chemicals remains in the gas as it then travels.

However, Hanley, the spokesperson for Spectra, said the company has a good track record.

“Spectra Energy has been operating safely in the New York-New Jersey region for more than 60 years,” she said.

While Spectra previously claimed that natural gas resources in the U.S. would last 100 years, the Energy Information Administration released a report this January with drastically lower estimates. The agency’s 2012 estimate of 482 trillion cubic feet of shale gas in the America is down 40 percent from the 2011 estimate of 827 trillion cubic feet. And the revised estimate for natural gas reserves in the Marcellus Shale, which runs under parts of New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, is now 141 trillion cubic feet of gas, representing a 66 percent drop from the 2011 E.I.A. estimate of 410 trillion cubic feet.

The proposed 20-mile, high-pressure, 30 inch pipeline, would extend the existing transmission network at Bayonne, N.J., through Staten Island and Jersey City, cross the Hudson River at Linden, N.J., where there is an “M and R” (metering and regulating) station, and emerge on the Gansevoort Peninsula in Manhattan, before tying in to the Con Ed distribution system. Con Ed, whose pipes are 24-inch maximum, would construct the last 1,500 feet of the pipeline.

According to documents Con Ed filed with the New York State Public Service Commission in 2009, 32 percent of its 4,300 miles of gas mains in the city and Westchester County were cast iron and 30 percent were unprotected steel. Special precautions must be taken with gas pressure fluctuations operating in very old gas pipes, as New York’s are.

The petition filed last Wednesday by lawyers on behalf of Sane Energy Project and five other organizations, along with individual petitioners, in New York Supreme Court seeks a temporary restraining order against the Hudson River Park Trust; Spectra Energy Corp; Texas Eastern Transmission, LP; and Algonquin Gas Transmission, LLC. The petitioners include United for Action, Village Independent Democrats, NYC Friends of Clearwater, NYH2O, Food and Water Watch and seven West Village residents, one of whom, Ynestra King, is disabled and already inconvenienced by the construction because she uses her wheelchair on the park’s bike path as an alternative to riding it on crowded sidewalks or dangerous streets.

Among the lawyers representing the petitioners are Yetta Kurland, a civil rights activist and Chelsea resident.

Basically, the petition attempts to override federal approval for an easement granted to Spectra by the Trust with a lawsuit at the state level because due process was not respected. The State Environmental Quality Review Assessment (SEQRA) was not conducted and construction of a pipeline is not a legitimate park use, the petitioners charge.

Clare Donohue, a founder of the lead plaintiff Sane Energy Project, said, “During the public comment period there were 5,000 comments, of which only 22 were in favor of the pipeline, among them Mayor Bloomberg, and all the others except one were people involved in the construction of the pipeline.”

The Trust received $2.8 million from Spectra for a 30-year easement right to run the pipeline under Gansevoort Peninsula.

“The existence and operation of the Spectra pipeline itself, and the pipeline connection to Con Ed’s existing distribution system, will result in permanent and significant safety hazards, to residents of the area, those who use the park, and those who drive or commute via West St., which runs along the park,” the lawsuit says.

In related news, the state Department of Environmental Conservation was expected to decide on whether high-volume hydrofracking can be done safely in New York. But on Mon., Sept. 10, Governor Cuomo announced on an Albany radio station that there are no immediate plans for a decision on whether to allow hydraulic fracturing in New York State and that, whatever the decision, he expects lawsuits to follow it.

Critics of the Spectra pipeline believe that what drives Mayor Bloomberg’s approval of the proposed Gansevoort easement is a desire to promote hydrofracking here and create a need for natural gas. There are newly enacted city laws banning the use of No. 6 heavy-duty oil fuel and replacing it with No. 4 by 2013, and the much more refined No. 2 by 2015, or with biodiesel or natural gas. However, critics believe that the efforts should go into renewable energy sources instead.

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15 Responses to Frack opponents fight back by filing suit, blocking dig

  1. From the above article: "Driving the natural gas 'gold rush' are two assertions: that natural gas is clean, and that supplies are basically inexhaustible."

    I'm not sure how one wants to define "inexhaustible," but as the above article points out, the EIA estimates that there are 482 trillion cubic feet of extractable shale gas in America. This seems like a very big number until one learns that America currently uses around 24 trillion cubic feet of natural gas per year (the annual usage info is available at the EIA web site). So if we have 482 tcf, and if we do not increase our natural gas usage, and if 100% of the gas is burned here rather than being shipped to other countries, then we would have around 20 years' worth of American shale gas.

    • According to some reports, only 20% of the fracked gas being pumped to NYC would be used by New Yorkers,
      the rest would be exported to the highest bidder overseas–primarily developing gas guzzlers in China and elsewhere in Asia/

  2. Thank you for covering this important issue. New Yorkers, let's be the first to stand up against fracking. If we allow it to happen here, no one will stop it. Our precious water supply will pay the price for centuries to come!

  3. Kudos to The Villager for covering this important issue. I'm a long time Village resident, and the idea of running a dangerous pipeline into our beautiful, historic neighborhood is, to say the least, curious. As to Spectra's assertion that the radon their pipeline will bring into our kitchens is harmless, I'd love to know who the "independent experts" who determined this are and what relationship they have to Spectra. I'm very skeptical of this claim, especially when you consider Spectra's boast about its safety record. To the contrary, they have a terrible safety record and have been cited numerous times. I say hats off to the brave protestors who put their bodies on the line to call attention to this danger. Everyone in the Vilage, indeed everyone in the city, who cares about public health and climate change, should be up in arms.

  4. Talk with folks from New Jersey to Pennsylvania who actually have experience with Spectra Energy. Company execs say, "Safety is our franchise. It's what we do."

    Yet Spectra Energy has a documented track record that reads like a police rap sheet with multi-million dollar fines, leaks, explosions and a refusal to be transparent – all on the public record.

    For example, at Spectra Energy’s Bedford County, PA, compressor station, there have been performance problems since it began operations in 2009. But it declines to answer questions on the issues — including multiple shutdowns/blowdowns, gas leaks, valve failures. Reference link: Citizen Regulators 4 — http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/blog/?p=1362

    Or: <A hrefr="http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/blog/?p=1362"&gt; Spectra Energy

  5. Mustard and Biscuits

    And after a long day of protesting the activists left in their gasoline-powered cars to their natural gas-heated homes to cook dinnner on thier natural gas stoves and thought: how wonderful I am for being such a friend to the earth and not a hypocrite or smug like those evil energy companies that have ensured I enjoy the highest standard of living on earth.

  6. Well said Mustard and Biscuits! Of course I’m from an oil field town where our quality of life depends on the jobs of these so called evil energy companies. They give us the ability to feed our family, keep a roof over our heads, and keep money in the two savings accounts for our kids. How many of you can say that? Im sure most of you who read this article are mooching off my husbands hard earned money. I would like to know where these ladies found the rubber bands that tie their hair back, the make up they threw on their face to try and look pretty or the nail polish they use to make their toes stand out, while they walk from their cars, in their flip flops, to the construction site to protest.

    • Thanks for the compliment! I wasn't wearing any make up or nail polish. And, as stated above, I don't own a car and never have. I don't have a husband and have always supported myself. So much for all your ass-umptions.

      There are many jobs to be had in solar and wind. I'll take solar and wind thanks.

  7. Despite Spectra spokesperson's comment about their safety record in my article, the following
    link offers another view of its safety violations http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/blog/?p=964

  8. I would argue that Solar and Wind are not the end all environmental solution to energy concerns. It's (my opinion of course) a combination of solar, wind, and natural gas that will ultimately move us all into a better position for our electricity/heating needs.

    Case in point for those truly concerned about the environment..
    To serve the electricity needs of 1,000,000 homes you would change the landscape of 6,000 acres of land for solar fields or wind farms, yet only need 300 acres from a natural gas footprint.

  9. BWL and others: please see Gasland. If the price of "natural gas" is a contaminated water supply, that price is too high. We can live without gas, but we cannot live without clean water.

    Visit the EPA site. They are delivering bottled water to many towns in the US whose water supply has been contaminated by the over 600 toxic chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. I'm sure if we divested money from fossil fuels and put that money towards developing truly sustainable energy, we would find solutions pretty fast.

  10. I take Gasland with a grain of salt. As your opinions and my opinions are .. it's someone elses opinion on a controversial subject. It is not, nor should it be seen as gospel. I could comment about the number of vidoes, sites, and documents rebutting Gasland, but that only fuels flamming on message boards.

    Ultimately, everyone should make their own informed decision, weighing out what they feel personally are the pros and cons.

  11. IMHO Gasland is fear-mongering at its best. For a truth-based documentary on the topic, watch the movie Haynesville.

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