Chelsea Belatedly Waking Up to Spectra

The West Village has been activated to the Spectra pipeline for 2 years now, but with the Con Ed extension of the pipeline about to begin construction, their uptown neighbors are only beginning to realize they are affected as well. Two recent events illustrate the problem: Although the local community board (CB4) filed public comment to FERC back in 2011, CB4's Valentine's Day meeting was the first time the board had a chance to question representatives of Con Ed and Spectra. As reported by Eileen Stukane in Chelsea Now, that meeting was "was anything but soft lights and whispers . . ."

As Ms. Stukane now reports in  an update to that story: "West Village and Chelsea residents, along with Community Boards 2 and 4 (CB2, CB4) are concerned that the presence of a Spectra Pipeline in the area will present danger to public safety and further encourage the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, of the Earth’s shale—a method known to leave cancer-causing chemicals in water supplies near hydrofracked sites. Environmental activists have had good reason to resist its construction. Looking at the bigger picture, groups such as the Sane Energy Project and Occupy The Pipeline are working to move the planet away from dependence on fossil fuel—acquired in ways harmful to the environment—and toward renewable forms of energy."

DNA Info's Matthew Katz covered another CB4 meeting, this time with the full board, this past Wednesday, and described members as, "slamming Spectra and ConEd for not demonstrating the safety of the system."

Maarten de Kadt, co-chairman of the board's Waterfront, Parks and Environment Committee, was quoted as saying, "We are in a learning mode with the Spectra pipeline and the ConEd pipeline," and, "We don't know enough to say that ConEd's system is safe."

Not reassuringly, Deley Gazinelli, a 15th Street resident and member of both CB4 and the Village Independent Democrats (a party to the Sane Energy lawsuit against the HRPT, Spectra and Con Ed), described the ancient existing infrastructure the new pipe will connect to, saying, “There’s not one week of the month that we do not have a ConEd truck on my block,"adding, "They say they’re there because the infrastructure is over 100 years old and they have to come every week to fix a problem.”

Construction has not been halted while Chelsea considers what's coming their way. With Con Ed already doing exploratory "test pits" along 10th Avenue, CB4 has now issued a letter to Con Edison, requesting reassurance of safety. Con Ed maintains the pipes are safe, despite prior reports of collapsing underground vaults in Chelsea, and numerous pipeline explosions in recent memory, such as in Kansas City.

The CB4 letter highlights the radon issue, requesting "regular testing and public disclosure of that testing for numerous contaminants in natural gas with particular focus on the existence of radon," something which Sane Energy Project has been pushing for and which we hope will become law. (More on that as soon as we have confirmation.)

Unfortunately, the leaders of CB4 may have fallen victim to Con Ed and Bloomberg propaganda about boiler conversions, saying in the letter,  "It would be irresponsible to oppose this addition to Con Ed's supply without offering a currently available alternative to energy supply in NYC. However, because of the short-sightedness of the decision makers we are given a Hobson's Choice and then told be responsible and choose it since natural gas (putting aside number 2 oil for the moment) is a better fuel source than Grades 6 and 4 oil and therefore our only option." Of course, there are better alternatives to switching from heavy oils, such as biodiesel, bioD blends, and solar thermal–even number 2 oil–all of which are readily available and cheaper to convert to. (See Sane Energy's primer on boiler conversions here.)

Local community leaders were also unhappy with aspects of the letter, and there was much head shaking and protest at the meeting. DNA Info reported: "Bill Borock, president of the Council of Chelsea Block Associations, said he was upset that the board's letter was not strong enough." Borock is quoted saying, "If something happens, all the monitoring won't be worth anything."

Luckily, CB4 agrees with us as to where New York's energy systems should be headed, requesting "an aggressive effort to develop and install alternative energy sources by Con Edison as well as by Federal, State and Local agencies and enterprises." With Stanford University's Mark Jacobson about to release his final peer-reviewed roadmap that demonstrates how to switch all of New York's power to renewables, we can't say strongly enough how much we oppose the city's push to shove these pipeline projects down the throats of multiple unsuspecting communities.

We are on the cusp of a moment when a truly renewable society is within our grasp, and instead, city leaders are grasping at the dirty fossil fuels of a past century. There's no excuse for the excuses they are offering, or for the miles of pipeline they intend to put down when they could be investing those dollars in wind, water and solar.