“I haven’t even shown you where the Dominion and Millennium pipelines meet,” Lisa Marshall told me. “Or where they’re bringing fracking waste to the landfill. And we didn’t talk about bomb trucks.”
She had been driving us around the Southern Tier of New York, not far from Ithaca, all morning and afternoon, giving me a tour of the fracked gas infrastructure in the region. And because the area is so close to where fracking is going on in neighboring Pennsylvania, there’s a lot of it and we’ve barely covered the tip of the iceberg by the time I have to leave.
Lisa’s life has been dominated by fracked gas infrastructure ever since Dominion Energy proposed an expansion of a 200+ mile pipeline that cuts through her rural community.
“If you imagine a football field with a block of ice half a mile into the air, that’s how much gas we’re talking about moving every day,” she said as we stood above a section of the pipeline that goes incredibly close to a community center.
In 2017, Dominion’s New Market Project increased the capacity of the pipeline, which transports fracked gas from Pennsylvania through New York, by 112,000,000 cubic feet a day. Three compressor stations were expanded and two new ones were built, including the Veteran compressor station, not far from Lisa’s home in Horseheads, New York.
Compressor stations are large industrial facilities that regulate the flow of gas, moving it along through a pipeline. Like all fracked gas infrastructure, compressor stations expose local communities to many of the same health impacts as fracking.
Lisa began working with Mothers Out Front to educate her community and organize with local moms opposed to the pipeline expansion.
One of those mothers is Gina Cacioppo who lives near the Borger compressor station in Dryden, which was the first town in New York to ban fracking. The rest of the state followed in December 2014 when Governor Cuomo did what few elected officials have done and listened to the science on fracking.
He couldn’t ignore it. New Yorkers left 260,000 public comments on the Environmental Impact Statement on fracking, and showed up everywhere the Governor went demanding he put public health before fossil fuel profits.
Governor Cuomo listened on fracking, but has failed to show the same leadership when it comes to fracked gas infrastructure, leaving many New York communities on the fossil fuel chopping block.
“This whole pipeline, natural gas situation is much bigger than people think, “ said Cacioppo. “I think people have a false sense of security. At least I know I did in New York that just because we’re not fracking New York that you’re not dealing with any of the repercussion of fracking and that’s not really true.”
Gina was pregnant when the Borger compressor station was expanded and now worries about her daughter growing up and playing outside exposed to emissions.
She also worries about the climate impacts the expansion of fracked gas infrastructure in New York will have and what it will mean for her very young daughter’s future.
One of the reasons Lisa Marshall got involved with Mothers Out Front is because she’s been concerned about climate change for a long time. She wrote her first paper about it in high school. For a long time she thought politicians would do something about it, and now that she has college age kids herself, she has found herself on the front lines of the fight to stop climate change by stopping fracked gas infrastructure.
For years she’s been calling on Governor Cuomo to join her.
“While he shut the front door to fracking, he opened up the dam basically to fracked gas,” Marshall said. “Because the state isn’t counting the leaked methane as part of their greenhouse gas emissions, they’re really basically lying about what our situation is.”
Methane, the main component of fracked gas, is 84–100 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. If just 3% leaks throughout the entire process, from extraction to delivery, fracked gas is worse than coal for the climate.
A recent report from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) found leakage rates at about 2.5%, which is much higher than the Environmental Protection Agency reports based on fossil fuel industry supplied leakage rate data.
Independent scientists however, who don’t work closely with the industry as EDF does, have found leakage rates between 5–12%, meaning fracked gas is a climate disaster as well as local public health risk.
Janice Bretscher lives even closer to the Borger compressor station than Gina Cacioppo, just one house away. When I went to her home in June she was doing air monitor testing with Mother’s Out Front, in conjunction with the Environmental Health Project, because Dominion does no testing themselves.
She told me she’s been worried about the emissions since the compress station expanded last summer and that her and many other community members were disappointed to find out that the gas expansion that has put their lives on the line is not even destined for home heating use as Dominion originally claimed, but is headed for a fracked gas power plant being built in Dutchess County, New York.
“They have these wonderful goals they state, but it just doesn’t seem like they’re following through on that” she said of Governor Cuomo’s administration’s climate goals. “We know that our Dominion pipeline that comes through here, that it will now connect to the pipeline that leads straight down to Cricket Valley.”
Even though Governor Cuomo denied approving any fracked gas power plants, his administration provided air quality permits for Cricket Valley, a 1000-megawatt massive fracked gas power plant being built in Dover, New York. I drove there after seeing the Veteran compressor station in Lisa’s community.
Beautiful mountains frame the large swath of land that has been cleared for the fracked gas plant. It’s much larger than the farm field near Lisa’s home that has been transformed to an industrial site by the compressor station, but the feeling looking at the two sites is very similar.
“For me it’s been really satisfying to work with people and help them to speak truth to power, but at the end of the day I feel like I failed them in a lot of ways because we still have a compressor here,” said Marshall. “And that means we’re investing in fracking, we’re investing in a fracked future.”
But Lisa hasn’t given up.
“I think the movement is building and I think we’re racking up more wins,” said Marshall. Her region just won a huge victory when the Department of Environmental Conservation denied a permit to store fracked gas liquids in unstable salt caverns under Seneca Lake.
Public pressure and community organizing also led Governor Cuomo’s administration to deny permits for the Constitution and Northern Access fracked gas pipelines as well as Port Ambrose, a liquefied gas export terminal.
“If you look at the gas industry’s own slides they consider the activists in New York and the influence we’ve been able to have over Cuomo to be their greatest barrier to success. So we know we’re having an impact,” said Marshal. “If we can stop it here in New York that could snowball over the entire Northeast.”
And there’s new fracked gas projects in the Southern Tier that will need to be stopped.
Dominion is planning another expansion of their pipeline and there’s a proposal to convert the Cayuga coal plant nearby to a fracked gas plant.
The Federal Regulatory Energy Commission, which is the agency that oversees the federal approval of interstate gas pipelines, has already said they will not take the climate impacts of the Dominion expansion into consideration.
Meaning it’s up to the state of New York and mothers like Lisa to stop it.