Volume 81, Number 18 | October 6 - 12, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Gas pipeline fears fuel heated debate at Board 2 meeting

By Albert Amateau

West Side residents expressed their distrust and fears at a Tuesday Community Board 2 forum about a proposed 30-inch, high-pressure, natural gas pipeline crossing the Hudson River from New Jersey to Gansevoort St.

The Spectra Energy pipeline between Linden, N.J., and the West Village has the support of the Bloomberg administration, which has mandated that thousands of residential furnaces using high-polluting No. 4 and No. 6 heating oil be converted in the next few years to relatively clean-burning natural gas.

The draft environmental impact statement for the local extension of Spectra’s interstate natural gas pipeline is currently under review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Jason Mansfield, chairperson of the C.B. 2 Environmental, Public Health and Safety Committee, said the forum was intended to help draft the board’s response to the FERC review before the Oct. 31 deadline for public comment.

The federal agency is holding a meeting in Greenwich Village at P.S. 41, W. 11th St. at Sixth Ave., at 7 p.m. Thurs., Oct. 20, to take public testimony.

“This is an important meeting since your comments will be entered into the record and FERC can hear from you firsthand,” Mansfield said at opening of the Tuesday forum. The Oct. 4 pipeline forum was the committee’s third in two years.

Later this week the public will be able to file comments on the project directly with FERC online through the C.B. 2 Web site at www.CB2manhattan.org.

Representatives of Spectra Energy, Con Edison and the city Department of Environmental Protection spoke at length about the need for the pipeline and the safety measures to be employed in its construction and operation.

But opponents insisted they were not convinced that a new natural gas source was really needed, much less a large, high-pressure line with potential safety risks.

Regarding safety, one member of the audience demanded, “How can we trust you?” citing the Sept. 9, 2010, explosion and fire from Pacific Gas & Electric’s natural gas line that destroyed 53 homes, damaged 120 other buildings and killed one person in San Bruno, California, near San Francisco.

Spectra said the proposed pipeline would have specially made and inspected high-strength flexible pipe with coating inside and out, buried 3 feet or more with special fill. In operation, technicians monitoring operations via robotics could remotely shut down the line.

But C.B. 2 members noted that the board last year suggested that automatic shutoff valves might be more reliable than remote control shutoff. However, Spectra representatives at the Tuesday forum said technology for remote shutoff was better than automatic shutoff technology.

“A lightning strike could trigger an automatic shutoff,” said Ed Gonzales, Spectra project manager.

The Spectra pipeline under review would cross the southwest corner of Gansevoort Peninsula, cross the West Side Highway at Gansevoort St. and terminate on the west side of the proposed Whitney Museum property.

Con Edison would build its own high-pressure, 30-inch, natural gas line from the Gansevoort terminus of the Spectra pipeline along 10th Ave. for 1,500 feet to a Con Edison connection at 15th St. at 10th Ave.

But the Con Edison connector line is not part of the FERC environmental review. Cheryl Payne, the engineer in charge of Con Edison’s gas transmission, said the connector line has not been designed yet. But she said the materials and construction method would conform to the same high standards of the Spectra pipeline.

The Con Edison connector line would also use a remote shutoff system. Like the Spectra representative, Payne said an automatic shutoff system could be triggered by an event like lightning and needlessly leave large areas of the city without service.

C.B. 2’s Mansfield said later that the environmental review of the Spectra project should include Con Edison’s connector line.

“I don’t think they really made the case that the pipeline is needed,” he added. “It just wasn’t justified in view of its potential for catastrophic damage.”

Many of the project’s opponents at the Tuesday meeting had in mind the impending rules on natural gas production by high-volume hydrofracture drilling in New York State’s Southern Tier.

Spectra representatives said the company’s business was only natural gas transportation, not production. Indeed, the draft environmental impact statement indicates that the pipeline would be able to bring natural gas from the Marcellus Shale regions of southern New York and northern Pennsylvania into the Manhattan.

Catherine Skopic, an environmental advocate, told the Oct. 4 forum that it was time for investment and exploration of renewable resources like solar voltaic cells and wind energy instead off fossil fuel.

Opponents were also skeptical about the common assumption that natural gas is the cleanest of fossil fuels, if the environmental damage of hydrofracture drilling is included in the assumption.

Speaking to the fear of terrorism, Frank Eady, a former member of Community Board 4, raised the specter of Stuxnet, a computer program that he said was used to sabotage and set back Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

“That program is out there,” he warned.

Spectra representatives acknowledged that they didn’t know about Stuxnet, but Gonzales said the company monitored potential cyberspace danger.

Mav Moorhead, a Lower Manhattan resident angrily demanded, “Who will be accountable when the neighborhood blows up?” she said, adding, “We don’t have a hospital,” referring to the closing of St. Vincent’s.

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