Saturday, April 16, 2016

Stop a Pipeline for Fracked Gas

CreditMarina Muun
GENERATIONS of the Holleran family have harvested sap from trees on their land in New Milford, Pa. In early March, their small maple syrup business was nearly destroyed when armed federal marshals accompanied men with chain saws onto the family farm and used the power of eminent domain to cut down most of their maple trees.
The Hollerans are in the way of the Constitution Pipeline, the 124-mile structure that would carry fracked gas from the Marcellus Shale fields of Pennsylvania to a compressor station in Wright, N.Y. From there, it would connect with the Iroquois and Tennessee pipelines to take the gas to New England, and potentially to Canada. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission almost always approves such pipelines, despite growing evidence of the harm they are doing.
Now the Houston-based Constitution Pipeline Company is poised to begin construction in New York. They have been held back from cutting trees only by an objection in January from Eric T. Schneiderman, the attorney general of New York, who cited the fact that the state still has one way to stop the project.
The Clean Water Act gives the New York Department of Environmental Conservation the power to deny a water-quality certificate to projects that do not meet its water-quality standards. There is ample reason to do so.
The pipeline would cross nearly 300 creeks and streams and necessitate cutting 700,000 trees. The D.E.C. has recommended drilling six feet under all crossings, but the company plans to “trench” through most of them. Along with the massive tree-cutting on stream banks and hillsides, this would exacerbate flooding in a region already experiencing much stronger storms and floods. It would also harm dozens of trout streams and spawning areas, which the D.E.C. is charged with protecting. If the state does not exercise its authority to deny this certificate by April 26, the company will be allowed to proceed by default.
Building this pipeline would undermine our commitment to fight climate change. Proponents of fracked gas argue that it can be a “bridge” fuel while we make the transition to renewable energy. They focus on the fact that when gas — which is largely methane — is burned, it releases half the CO2 of coal. But whether you see this glass as half empty or half full, it is being poured into an atmosphere that is already full — of CO2, having crossed the threshold of 400 parts per million last year. Also, methane, which can leak from gas infrastructure, traps heat 84 times as much as CO2 does over a 20-year period. A recent study led by Harvard researchers showed that in the Boston area methane is leaking from gas delivery systems at rates two to three times higher than industry estimates.
Another study, published in Geophysical Research Letters in March, found that between 2002 and 2014, a period that coincides with the fracking boom, United States methane emissions increased by 30 percent.
Investments in this infrastructure would shackle us to gas for decades, just as we are finding out it contributes significantly more to global warming than experts previously thought. Clearly, the “bridge” metaphor is no longer appropriate. Building this pipeline is more like taking a long walk off a short pier.
Only four months ago, the climate agreement in Paris was hailed as a signal that 195 nations all understand that we cannot live on fossil fuel forever. But the United States is now in danger of backsliding. If this pipeline is built, New York will most likely be contributing more to global warming after Paris than before.
Proponents of the pipeline assert that it will improve lives through more jobs and lower energy prices. But if the market price of this gas goes up, as many analysts believe it will, these companies will gladly charge the public more.
Most of the jobs are temporary, while the damage is here to stay. No study has been done to assess this damage — such as lost farms and businesses, expenses related to emergency services and environmental impact. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo rightly banned fracking in 2014, citing serious concerns about human health. Emissions from pipes and compressor stations carry health risks, too. Not counting these costs does not make them go away.
The pipeline’s proponents argue that if the pipeline is rejected, the gas is likely to get to the market another way, perhaps by liquefying it and moving it by rail. But even industry insiders acknowledge that that method has high costs and fierce opposition.
Now, more economists are calling for full accounting. Factoring in the damage to soil, air and water — and to the health of those whose bodies absorb these elements — changes the equation. Also, the contention that renewable sources can’t meet our energy needs, which the historian of science Naomi Oreskes calls a “new, strange form” of climate denial, is not going to hold forever. On balance, it does not make sense to tear up the landscape to support expanding infrastructure for what is still a fossil fuel.

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When gas is blasted out of the earth by industrial machinery and chemicals, there is nothing “natural” about it. There is abundant evidence that this process seriously upsets ecological balance, including water contamination and earthquakes in some regions with heavy fracking (Oklahoma had 890 earthquakes of 3.0 magnitude or higher last year). Fracking is no maple syrup farm.
The Constitution Pipeline is the wrong delivery system, using the wrong fuel, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. It promises benefits it can’t deliver, and will bring costs it neglects to calculate — to water, wildlife, family farms, tourism and, yes, the earth’s atmosphere. This month, New Yorkers should let the water guide us — and say no.

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