By Lisa Harrison
Something is happening in New York State. It will impact millions of people, but I, like so many others, was unaware until I heard about Minisink from my friend Asha.
What Happened in Minisink?
In 2011, Asha and her husband Yorke moved into their dream house in the bucolic township of Minisink, NY (about an hour northwest of New York City). The township is in the fertile “Black Dirt Region”, which provides fresh food to markets and restaurants throughout New York City’s five boroughs. The region sits atop the Wallkill River Aquifer, which contributes to NYC drinking water.
After one blissful week in their new home, Asha and Yorke began seeing flyers from Millennium Pipeline, Inc. announcing the arrival of a gas compressor station. They began asking questions (What’s a compressor station anyway?).
The compressor would pressurize fracked shale gas from Pennsylvania in order to maximize the amount that can be pushed through the pipeline. Some residents had heard of recent compressor and pipeline explosions. They all knew that Minisink’s volunteer fire department was not equipped to handle a blaze of such magnitude. Residents also feared that transporting fracked gas from nearby Pennsylvania would release toxic fracking chemicals into the air, water, and soil.
Minisink residents formed a group called Minisink Matters, and petitioned the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to prevent the siting of the facility within Minisink’s agriculturally zoned township. The compressor site is within a half-mile radius of 200 homes, some only 600 ft. away. Still the FERC denied their petition.
Yes, in Your Back Yard
Despite community and legal opposition, construction of the compressor station began in October 2012, and the compressor was connected to the main pipeline in the spring of 2013. Then the “blow-downs” began.
Leanne Baum first experienced a blow-down when she heard what sounded like a jet engine overhead. “It literally took your thought away,” she remembers.
A blow-down is the periodic venting of the pipeline contents in order to reduce pressure. Each time a blow-down occurred, people experienced headaches, coughs, nosebleeds, nausea, dizziness and rashes. They learned that a blow-down emits gas as well as toxins associated with fracking, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nitrogen oxides, and poly-aromatic hydrocarbons that linger in the surrounding environment and can cause respiratory illnesses, cancer, and chronic skin disease. None of this was disclosed by Millennium. Residents were told that the only emission would be water vapor.
Minisink citizens attended FERC meetings, testified at hearings, wrote thousands of public comments, appealed to senators, went to Washington at least 20 times, and hired an attorney to represent them in multiple legal proceedings. But in August 2014, the US Court of Appeals in Washington DC denied the Minisink petition.
“The scary thing for us is the realization that we need to get out, and the fear that we may not be able to get out.”
Over the past year, many residents have become shale gas refugees, leaving the homes they love, to protect their families from toxins released by Millennium Pipeline, and sanctioned by the FERC. Asha and Yorke counted at least 5 abandoned houses on their road alone – and now theirs is another. Some people are renting apartments in other towns, even though they had almost paid off their mortgages; some have moved in with family members; others have been unable to leave; many are experiencing health issues.
“Do we throw the keys on the hearth and walk away… and say so much for the American dream?”
Connecting the Dots
What happened in Minisink is not an isolated incident. Pipelines, compressor stations, and gas storage facilities are appearing in communities all over New York State. Local groups of citizens find themselves fighting powerful corporations, while government agencies enable the destruction of their property, health, and community.
The compressor station at Minisink was the beginning of a plan for rapid gas industrialization in the Black Dirt Region and beyond. This project is a segment in the larger plan for a pipeline carrying fracked gas from Pennsylvania, through New York and New England, to liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals in Canada. From there the gas would be exported to Asian markets where it will sell for many times the U.S. price. Naturally at that point, the U.S. price will rise.
The Minisink compressor was designed to serve as an industrial hub that would connect to various facilities over the next few years. One such facility is the CPV Valley Power Plant, seven miles from Minisink in the heart of the Black Dirt Corridor. This facility, fed by the Millennium pipeline, will release an anticipated 40 times the amount of pollutants as the Minisink compressor station.
“They haven’t been forthright about their relationship to CPV Valley and this power plant that they want to build.”
Although these projects are connected, they were presented as standalone entities, and the master plan was not divulged. This way, the impact of each individual project is considered separately, and the combined effect of emissions from all components is not addressed.
Segmenting the components of the plan makes it hard for communities to see the big picture and work together. But air and water don’t exist in self-contained bubbles. All drinking water is connected. Wind sweeps airborne pollution into communities far from its source, while contaminated food can be shipped to any grocery store in the country. Minisink lost its 4-year battle, but other front line communities are currently embroiled in the same fight, and if they lose, we all lose.
Who’s in Charge?
Local elected officials have worked with communities to oppose the gas build-out, but the State has been slow to respond. This may be changing, and there now seems to be a power struggle playing out between NYS government and the gas industry. After mounting public pressure, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo called for work on the AIM pipeline to halt, pending an independent risk analysis. But Spectra Energy and the FERC refused to stop construction.
Note: The job of the FERC is to evaluate and regulate energy projects, in the public interest. In reality, FERC rubber stamps nearly every fossil fuel project it encounters, and is in fact paid by the industry it is supposed to regulate (see page 6 of the 2016 FERC budget proposal http://www.ferc.gov/about/strat-docs/2015/FY16-Budget-Request.pdf.)
Don’t let New York become a Gas Colony; Help Front Line Communities
These are just a few of the fossil fuel projects currently invading New York communities.
Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) Spectra 2 Pipeline:
FERC has permitted Spectra Energy to begin construction of the massive 42” diameter high-pressure AIM gas pipeline in Westchester County. The pipeline will pass 105 feet from critical structures of the Indian Point nuclear facility. Indian Point is an old, poorly functioning facility that holds more toxic waste than Fukushima, sits on two seismic fault lines, and is within a 50-mile radius of 20 million residents with no possible evacuation plan. Yet, despite community protest and warnings from scientific, medical and safety experts, the FERC, as always, gave its stamp of approval.
After exhausting all legal and regulatory channels to try to stop the AIM pipeline, some NY citizens have taken direct action, using their bodies to block the entrance to Spectra’s work site. Nine people (the Montrose 9) were arrested and are currently being tried for disorderly conduct. They are using the climate-necessity defense, saying that, since legal channels have failed and the danger is so grave, the only way to defend themselves and the environment was to break the law. This is a critical and perhaps precedent setting case. To learn more and help support the community fighting this gas invasion, see http://sape2016.org/ and http://www.senrg.org/.
CPV Valley Power Plant:
The Competitive Power Ventures (CPV) Valley power plant is under construction in Orange County. CPV is a venture capital firm owned by international investors (Global Infrastructure Partners) that intends to build an electrical generating plant powered by fracked gas and diesel fuel oil. It will be built on protected farmland, close to residential communities and schools. The plant will emit 2.1 million tons of CO2 per year. It will also emit 700 tons annually of VOCs, NOx, SOx, PM 10, PM 2.5, UFPM, and Formaldehyde – all known carcinogens, neurotoxins, and endocrine disruptors. To learn more and help the community resisting this toxic project, see http://www.blog.protectorangecounty.org/
The Constitution Pipeline is a joint venture between Williams Energy and Cabot Oil and Gas, planned to run through the Catskill Mountains and the Southern Tier, carrying fracked gas from Pennsylvania. It would cross sensitive wetlands, forests, lakes, streams, and farmland. Although they had not received the required 401 Water Quality Certificate from New York State, Williams used eminent domain and began tree cutting along the pipeline route in Pennsylvania – while PA State Troopers armed with semi-automatic weapons ensured that landowners could not interfere as they watched their maple trees falling to the ground.
Update: In a victory for the community and the environment, on Earth Day, April 22, 2016, the NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) denied the 401 Water Quality Certificate for the Constitution Pipeline – see http://www.stopthepipeline.org/
The “You are Here” interactive map shows known gas infrastructure projects in New York State, as well as links to groups resisting the gas build-out.
Video clips in this report were extracted from “Minisink Matters: Poisoning for Profit” courtesy of The Environment TV.