fracking

Constitution and NED Pipelines Halted!

KNOCK US OVER WITH A FEATHER–TWO PIPELINES DOWN! Amazing news on Earth Day that the DEC denied the Water Quality Permit for the Constitution pipeline. Following close on the heels of Kinder-Morgan pulling the plug on their NED pipeline, it's clear that the power of public opinion, and the work of thousands of Northeast activists, is having direct impact on our energy future across the region. Catch all the details on both defeats HERE–rejoice, take a bow–and then let's redirect all that activism towards the projects that remain. (But seriously, what joyful change is being made!)

The New York Times Awakens to the Infrastructure Movement

NYT 3-20-16
In the five years we've been fighting pipelines, a question frequently asked by newcomers who've just learned about the infrastructure invasion is an outraged, "Why isn't the New York Times covering this?!" A good percentage of the population revers this paper as the arbiter of important issues, and reaching that audience is considered a kind of golden ring. It can be argued that the early anti-fracking movement got a huge boost from the groundbreaking series Ian Urbina wrote for the Times. Now, at long last, because of the work you all have been doing, The Gray Lady has caught on in a big way to the scope and power of the anti-infrastructure movement. We celebrate this important milestone.
First the Times published this post, detailing how the AIM pipeline increases concerns about Indian Point, complete with Governor Cuomo's announcement of an independent safety investigation, and his call for FERC to halt construction on the project. Then, on March 19th, this story portrayed the united movement that infrastructure battles around the country have become, observing, "Bound together through social media, networks of far-flung activists are opposing virtually all new oil, gas and coal infrastructure projects." 
Reporter John Schwartz catalogued infrastructure fights in Portland, Seneca Lake, and at FERC offices, quoting one advocate who said, “When we pick up the ball and run with it here in North Carolina, we’re well aware of what’s going on in Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island,” adding, “The fight we’re doing here, it bears on what happens elsewhere—we’re all in this together."

The reporter also noted the connection the movement has made to climate change, and the push for green energy. Our own Patrick Robbins, whose press release about AIM piqued interest in the bigger picture, was also quoted: “It’s not a bridge to renewable energy—it’s a competitor."

Bill McKibben, whose recent arrest with We Are Seneca Lake advocates was highlighted in the story, called the blockade “a good scene,” noting that it was hardly an isolated action: “There’s 15 places like this around the world today,” McKibben said. “There will be 15 more tomorrow, and the day after that.”

ResistAIM campaign covered by Grist

Ben Adler has posted an article in Grist detailing the rise of blockades against Spectra's AIM pipeline in the Northeast. Despite Spectra's spokesperson's rote statements about "clean, reliable, domestic natural gas," Adler notes that "new pipelines are actually less safe than older ones. Pipelines built in the 2010s have been failing at about three times the rate of those built from the 1950s to the 2000s." Sane Energy Co-Director, Kim Fraczek, who was arrested as one of the Montrose 9, says, “New York state has outlawed fracking because of health and safety issues; we need to consider that the infrastructure is just as damaging to our health and safety as much as the drilling is.” WSN rev

Fall 2015 Reportback

Things are always jumping at Sane Energy Project, but this past Fall season has been particularly active, with the successful campaign against Port Ambrose in full gear, the Resist AIM campaign taking off, plus so many events, rallies and forums! Here are some highlights:

We Won Port Ambrose!

We celebrated the Port Ambrose veto with all the allies who helped defeat the proposed Liquefied Natural Gas project. It was a sweet win after an intense two-year battle that included getting the NY City Council to pass a resolution against it, innumerable hearings, community meetings, rallies, press conferences, email and postcard campaigns– plus lots of work behind the scenes to win over electeds throughout Long Island and the rest of the state. This concerted, coalition effort was rewarded when Governor Cuomo vetoed the Port on November 12th, and then in December, the Long Beach City Council presented advocates with a proclamation on behalf of the local community. Such wins are so rare and treasured that Naomi Klein invited Co-Director Patrick Robbins to write an article about the experience on her blog, 

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The campaign leading up to the defeat ran hot and heavy from Labor Day on, rallying massive turnouts–from hearings on Long Island to street performances in front of a Broadway show where Governor Cuomo held a fundraiser.

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Once the veto window opened, we started a "countdown clock" outside the Governor's office, But because of the efforts of so many, the Governor only took 4 days to come to a decision to veto it.

 Resist AIM Launched

Sane Energy Project has supported the efforts of local organizers to lead a campaign of Creative Peaceful Resistance (CPR) against the construction of the Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) pipeline, since its approval by FERC over the objections of the  public, and the start of tree cutting. These efforts have involved hosting frontline residents at forums throughout Westchester and NYC; promoting their pledge to resist, facilitating art builds, media outreach, and organizing support teams for blockades. Co-Director, Kim Fraczek, was arrested with local advocates at the first blockade on November 9th. Because of Sane's alliances, there were even corresponding blockades using inflatables on the same day in Westchester and at the Paris COP 21 talks!

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We REVed it Up!

The statewide REV (Reforming the Energy Vision) has been a big focus for us this Fall: "Make REV R.E.A.L (Renewable, Equitable, Accountable and Local)" started with a banner for a joint Sierra Club/Sane rally, then became the clarion call for the Energy Democracy Alliance, of which Sane is a member (logo, below, courtesy of Sane's artistic powerhouse, Kim Fraczek). There was a packed house at the REV hearing at NYU on October 27th, calling on the Public Service Commission to stop supporting fracked gas and coal infrastructure and replace these polluters with offshore wind and solar.

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And there were so many other events!

We led off our new bi-weekly Sane Energy volunteer meetings with trainings for the Port Ambrose and REV hearings; we supported the Blued Trees art project; we presented the YOU ARE HERE map at Seneca Lake, we screened THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING and connected the global climate crisis to local fights with environmental justice speakers; and our Climate Rider, Lorna rode nearly 400 miles to stop climate change, and we threw her a big fun party!
(There was so much more that we can't fit in here, and that's why we encourage you to keep up with us daily on Facebook, where all the late-breaking news and events across the state are posted!) We so look forward to doing more great advocacy with you in 2016! If you would like to support the work we do, please click here!

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Blockadia Gets Real

The AIM pipeline sparks multi-state resistance.

When you think about the kind of person who would blockade a backhoe with their body, Nancy Vann might not be whom you’d picture. Mild-mannered to the point of needing frequent reminders to speak up, her fine-boned body is surgically pieced back together after a long-ago car accident that left her walking with a cane and merits a handicap-parking permit. The former financial services lawyer is a homeowner in the Reynolds Hills community near Peekskill, New York.

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This bucolic bungalow colony had been a peaceful place until the recent arrival of tree cutting equipment, brought in by Spectra Energy to clear a route for their Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) pipeline. The pipeline path comes within fifteen feet of one of the Reynold Hills cabins and borders several of the backyards there.

Residents here have larger concerns than their own backyards: Nancy and other advocates are deeply concerned about the wider impact of the pipeline, which would cross two fault lines, the Hudson River, and on the west and east sides of the river, rail lines that carry, respectively, “bomb” oil trains and propane trains.

Compressor and pigging stations that are part of the project would spew emissions over a wide swath of residences, schools and playgrounds. The pipeline would run through New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island to a Massachusetts hub that would connect shale gas supplies from Pennsylvania to an export facility in Nova Scotia.
The biggest worry, however, is that the high-pressure, forty-two-inch-diameter pipe would pass within one hundred and five feet of critical equipment that is part of the Indian Point nuclear facility. An accident there would devastate a wide area, including New York City.
The tree cutting taking place now at Reynolds Hill is in preparation for pipeline construction. Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who ran a pro-fracking campaign against Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2014, has allowed Spectra eleven months to cut trees on county parkland. Had Astorino opted to give the company twelve months, it would have triggered a legislative vote.

Reynolds Hill Resistance

Just after dawn, on Thursday, Nov. 19th, Nancy saw a tree cutting crane making its way towards her house. Realizing there was no one she could call in time to stop it, she walked outside and placed herself in the path of the cutter, under one of the larger trees. She was later joined by her local city councilwoman, and several other advocates.

According to recommendations printed on the tree cutting crane, a distance of 300 feet should be maintained between the machine and people. Nancy remained on her own property, and therefore could not be arrested, but her proximity led to a work stoppage for the day.
On Friday, the crews returned, this time with chainsaws. Eight advocates who’d signed a pledge of resistance joined the protest, including Jess Rechtshaffer, who climbed one of the trees. For unknown reasons, on this day, the tree cutting crane did not maintain a 300-foot distance to the demonstrators.
A worker operating a chain saw began cutting trees within five feet of protesters. An arborist friend, someone who is familiar with how to take down a tree, urged them away, saying it was too dangerous to remain so close. Police at the scene did not interfere with the tree cutters and moved demonstrators back to a safe distance. Recounting the incident, Nancy said, “People got killed in the Civil Rights movement; you don’t stop because you could get hurt.”
A photographer documenting the scene was struck by branches, captured on video by NBC News 4. The protest was also filmed by CBS News and Westchester's News 12, and ongoing coverage has been provided by Patch.com.
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Resist AIM

After two-years attempting to engage FERC (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission), as well as town, county, state and federal officials, residents in Peekskill and other Westchester communities who feel that Creative Peaceful Resistance (CPR) is now their only remaining option, recently formed Resist AIM.
Resist AIM organized last week's early-morning blockade of a ware yard in Montrose, from which Spectra workers launch their daily tree-cutting activities. Nine were arrested, and all pleaded “not guilty” at their arraignment this past Friday. Like the fishermen who blockaded a New England coal ship in 2013, the advocates feel they are acting out of necessity; on the principle that their actions prevent a greater harm to the larger society. December 11th is the next court date for the Montrose 9, as they are now called, and a $10,000 legal fee must be raised (contributions may be made at the SenRG website––notate donations as “Fight AIM.”)
Like the We Are Seneca Lake (WASL) blockades, Resist AIM expects to run an extended campaign against the pipeline. The WASL model of themed blockades (mothers and grandmothers one day, faith leaders another) has been picked up by many allied groups fighting infrastructure.

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Opposition is fierce throughout New England

The Westchester groups are only the latest to join a resistance that has already been active along the route of the AIM pipeline. To date, there have been sixty-seven arrests in the regional fight against Spectra. Groups such as SWRL (Stop the West Roxbury Lateral) in Massachusetts, CVC (Capitalism Vs. The Climate) in Connecticut; BASE (Burrillville Against Spectra Expansion) and FANG (Fighting Against Natural Gas) in Rhode Island, have dogged Spectra for more than a year. CVC member Bernardo McLaughlin locked down to Spectra equipment at the Chaplin, CT compressor station on November 16th, delaying construction for three hours. And as of November 14th, Spectra has halted construction on the Roxbury Lateral until at least next spring, moving SWRL members to call for its members to support other Spectra fighters.
Like the Westchester groups, FANG started out leading letter writing campaigns and visiting elected officials, before launching a direct action campaign. FANG Member, Sherrie Andre, was arrested last May for a tree sit to block expansion of the Burrillville compressor station. A large-scale mobilization is planned in Rhode Island for December 4th and 5th.
Mutual support among pipeline fighters is spreading along the eastern seaboard: FANG Northeast is networked not only with Westchester groups and the Northeast Pipeline Alliance, but with groups in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. BXE (Beyond Extreme Energy), the DC-based group that most recently organized a hunger strike in front of FERC offices, is supporting the AIM resistance and other front-line community efforts. And mainstream organizations such as New England chapters of the Sierra Club and 350 are joining the battle against pipelines as well.

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The Empire Strikes Back

But homeowners and advocates aren’t the only ones turning up the heat: Dirty energy companies––finding themselves blocked at multiple points along a given project––have taken to claiming restitution, such as the $30,000 fine imposed on three FANG members after a lock down halted work crews for three hours this past September. (FANG’s legal fund can be found at their website.)
Pipeline builders often make "donations" to local police, fire and civic organizations, by way of engendering support for their projects. Rumor has it that Spectra has been making payments to the local Peekskill police force. Westchester and Peekskill police have been stationed at both ends of the Spectra construction area at Reynolds Hills since tree clearing began, with nighttime search lights so bright it is difficult for drivers to see the road. Last weekend, one officer appeared on private property, apparently "checking on" a community meeting. Senior Peekskill police at the scene promised that there would be no further incidents of that type. While it is proper that officers enforce laws that protect property, the question is whether the presence of a high-spending corporation affects the protection of free speech and assembly by law-abiding citizens.

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Whether such harassment tactics are abandoned could depend on how the public responds. Recent media coverage has brought plentiful negative publicity to Spectra for pursuing actions against ordinary citizens defending their homes. The builders’ tactic of eminent domain is highly unpopular, especially among conservatives.

Adding to Spectra's woes is the recent study released last week by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy, which found there is no need for additional gas pipelines, and that less expensive, less carbon-intensive options–especially efficiency measures–would be more effective in ensuring energy reliability. The study contradicts builders’ claims that the pipe would bring cheap energy to New England and lays bare their ambitions to use the line to reach export terminals further north.

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Where are we now?

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This is a turning point. As awareness builds, and having been burned by a gamed system run by industry-friendly agencies such as FERC, citizens are losing patience working within regulatory boundaries. Like Nancy Vann, people who never considered it before feel compelled to offer a direct response.

Earlier human rights struggles moved society from a place where oppressive behaviors and policies were accepted and commonplace, to being looked upon as barbaric. Women, minorities and LGTB community members were once legally and socially ostracized as lesser human beings, a concept that civilized society now rejects. How then can it be acceptable to treat those who live near where energy is extracted, stored, or transported as collateral damage in the service of perpetuating the use of climate-destroying fossils fuels?

In the context of a world that has already warmed one degree, allowing the continued harms to human health, the taking of private property, and the harassment of resisters is not only barbaric, but insanely self-destructive. People like Nancy Vann and other advocates who engage in peaceful resistance against dirty energy are–like the suffragettes, civil rights marchers, and Act Up leaders–a vanguard of ordinary people caught in an historical moment not of their own making, who nonetheless stand up for their inherent rights, and push to change the whole of society for the better.

 

Reynolds Hills photos courtesy of Erik McGregor

Volunteer plans a 400-mile Climate Ride for Sane Energy!

lornaWhen we learned that our pal, Lorna Mason, was planning to do the nearly 400-mile cycle from Bar Harbor to Boston, we were mighty impressed. After all, that's like biking from Manhattan to Montauk – 4 times! When she then said she planned to do it to benefit Sane Energy Project, we were floored. It's a privilege to be honored by such an amazing and fierce climate warrior.

The Climate Ride is an annual event that brings attention to the warming of the planet, and the particular ride she will do, along the northeast coastline that is threatened by sea level rise, pipelines, LNG ports and tanks, and already suffering the effects of ocean acidification, has particular meaning for us, as one of the founders of the Northeast Pipelines Alliance. 
We met Lorna at another group we helped found, the NYC Grassroots Alliance. As a member of the Zen Center of New York City and its Earth Initiative, Lorna invited Sane to come speak at Zen Center about Port Ambrose LNG, and soon their members were writing letters, sending postcards and attending hearings to try and stop the project. The latest iteration of this community partnership is Climate Ride Northeast.
Says Lorna, "I ride my bike a lot around NYC, and I long for the day when ALL car drivers respect riders and when the cars they drive don't emit any toxic exhaust. And really that day doesn't need to be far off.  Clean energy solutions are already available, we just need to create the political will to get us there. That's why I am riding in the Northeast Climate Ride and raising money for Sane Energy Project. I've been aware of Sane for the last couple of years and have been amazed by their fearless and intelligent pursuit to end fracking and the infrastructure that supports it, as well as their grassroots organizing to bring us a 100% sustainable energy future."
Climate Ride Northeast begins on September 17th in iconic Bar Harbor, Maine, then heads south through Acadia National Park, and along Maine's rocky coast, dotted with quaint harbor towns, lighthouses, and wild blueberry patches. The next two days are spent pedaling along Maine's Mid-Coast region with a stop in Portland. The fourth day pedals from Kennebunk to New Hampshire's 18 miles of scenic shoreline before the final day: A beautiful ride into Boston, Massachusetts where riders will retrace, in reverse, Paul Revere's famous midnight ride of 1775. ("Climate change is coming!") Join us in Boston on September 21st to greet Lorna and all the Climate Riders as they arrive!
Please support Lorna and follow along as we post about her training from now until she leaves for Maine! This is a great cause; 100% tax deductible donations can be made here.  About half the funds received will go to cover support for all the cyclists and the great work that Climate Ride does year-round; the rest will go to Sane Energy Project to support our climate work. 

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FERC Review of NED Pipeline Begins

Scoping meetings for the 5-state NED (Northeast Energy Direct) pipeline by Kinder Morgan/TGP have been announced. These are the first of several more hearings that will take place over the course of the review. Click here for dates, locations and suggestions for filing comments at this stage of the review.  To view an interactive map of this pipeline please click here. For more information about the project click here. For information about the track record of the builder and the reviewing agency, click here.  For an overview of other proposed shale gas projects in New York State, click here. SS constitution

Mid-Year Reportback

It's been a productive first half of the year: We're excited about the success of City Council resolution #549 and the growing groundswell of opposition to Port Ambrose, as well as opportunities coming up with offshore wind, the REV process and the state energy plan. Here's a brief roundup of what we've been up to lately at Sane Energy Project: JUNE

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Sane Energy Co-Director Kim Fraczek was honored as a Climate Hero by the Human Impacts Institute, along with many of our heroes, such as Wendy Brawer of Greenmaps, at a gala at the French Consulate. Kim also recorded a session with Green Gotham that will air later this summer.
long beach PR JR SIgang clearwaterOutreach this month moved outdoors and out of the city: We hosted a Port Ambrose orientation at Patagonia, then hit the beaches to leaflet along the south shore of Long Island. We spread the word about infrastructure at Clearwater weekend with our friends fighting the Constitution and AIM pipelines. YOU ARE HERE presentations in Staten Island and Orange County covered a wide range of upstate issues as well as Port Ambrose.
EnergyPlan-Report-Card-bannerA group of allies presented NYSERDA with a report card even when they cancelled their public meeting on the state energy plan last minute. We returned a second time for the rescheduled hearing and are evaluating the now-released plan. Final report card forthcoming. We ended the month by co-hosting a roundtable on offshore wind with our friends from Citizen Action, bringing together more than three dozen folks from around the state to talk about how to support the development of a renewable energy industry that could benefit the entire state.

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MAY

Jane's Walk, an annual event by the Municipal Arts Society, kicked off the month. This year's walking tour was hosted by a variety of art and artists from the new Whitney museum, and ended at the back door of the museum, on top of the pipeline vault, in a tug of war between Spectra execs and Jane Jacobs herself.

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May 14th saw the passage of the NY City Council resolution against Port Ambrose that we all worked so hard for, as well as the introduction of the Indian Point resolution. Complete story here.

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 May also saw work begin on America's first offshore wind farm, the so-called "Rhode Island Project" (which will eventually supply wind power to both Long Island and New England). This pilot project is crucial to the development of wind power on the east coast.
map imageJosh Fox and Lee Ziesche's travelogue highlights a different map each week. The YOU ARE HERE map was featured as the Map of the Week in May. The map has 137 "dots;" with each dot opening a pop-up box that explains the infrastructure project at that site, and links to the local group fighting it. As Josh and Lee note, "We’ve toured to many of those dots and have seen the strength of the communities there." Stops along the tour that are points on the map: Seneca Lake, where Josh was recently arrested; Wawayanda, near Middletown, where they attended a rally against the CPV power plant; and in Schoharie County when the Solutions Tour highlighted the Constitution pipeline fight. As Lee says, "If these projects are allowed to continue, it’s game over for our planet–meaning whether there is an infrastructure dot over your house or not, we are all here."
lineWe made presentations about shale gas infrastructure to the Village Independent Democrats, the Hudson Guild, Rockaway Wildfire, and Sustainable Warwick. Our travels took us to Long Beach, Rockaway, and City Hall fighting Port Ambrose; to Tarrytown for the NRC Indian Point hearing, to Rosendale to work on the Pilgrim Pipeline; and to Syracuse to teach artivism. We took part in Surfriders' Hands Across the Sands event, which was focused on stopping Port Ambrose and offshore drilling.
Finally, over the Memorial Day weekend, to prep for the FERCUS rally, Kim led a team to paint a 50-foot banner  that was used to blockade FERC and is now touring the region with various activist actions. Click here to see the complete photo set of the FERCUS art build.

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APRIL

The month started with the City Council hearing on Port Ambrose where Sane Energy Project presented a 4-part power point. The Port Ambrose campaign continued with lots of postcard writing events, rallies, and a town hall presentation in Oceanside where a banner painted by local teens had its debut.

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We had a bird dog rally at Governor Cuomo's Harvard Club fundraiser on April 13th, demanding he veto Port Ambrose. The April 21st rally at his Manhattan office, part of the three-day Rising Tide action, was a huge success, with a Port Ambrose tanker squaring off against wind turbines. Co-Director Patrick Robbins was interviewed at the rally for Democracy Now.
wind 1boat4-13 sign4-13 crowd4-13 nypirg11066779_10100468952537162_6324048128389725377_n A lot of action was generated around the Spectra site in the West Village, where the opening of the new Whitney Museum was another chance to bring attention to the infrastructure build out in NYC and to what's at the other end of the pipe. Meanwhile, Clare Donohue demonstrated the YOU ARE HERE map in a webinar on fracktivist tools hosted by the Halt the Harm network.
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Kim helped Riverside Church prepare artwork for an Earth Day mass, and we took part in the Earth Day Fest at Union Square and at a City College improv performance.

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The month ended with the NECOS conference, bringing together climate and pipeline fighters to Massachusetts from all over the Northeast.

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MARCH

The tragic gas explosion in the East Village was a reminder how devastating any gas accident can be and why we should be rapidly replacing our city's aging infrastructure with renewable energy. Our statement on the explosion here.
Kim presented at both the Shale Justice Convergence and Shale Justice Spring Break in Pennsylvania, and was invited to lead an activist art forum at Pratt Institute. Patrick presented about Port Ambrose at the Island Park and Baldwin Civic Associations as well as the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, and the Manhattan Young Democrats. And another YOU ARE HERE presentation went off in Spencer, NY. The press conference announcing the Port Ambrose resolution was covered by Newsday, the Long Island Herald, and NY1.
See the Reportback for January and February here, and the media round up for April through June here.

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Most photos by Erik McGregor

Fracking is for sure, really, truly, banned in NY State

"In the end, there are no feasible or prudent alternatives that would adequately avoid or minimize adverse environmental impacts and that address the scientific uncertainties and risks to public health from this activity. The Department’s chosen alternative to prohibit high-volume hydraulic fracturing is the best alternative based on the balance between protection of the environment and public health and economic and social considerations."

Beautiful words from DEC Commissioner Joe Martens, on page 42 of his findings statement, which is the legally binding document he promised he would draft last December 17th when Dr. Zucker completed the Public Health Review.

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The findings statement is a 43-page document that lays out the history of the nearly seven-year review, and the alternatives considered. The DEC did consider alternatives that would have allowed parts of the state to be fracked, or fracked with different materials, or mitigated in various ways. However, they chose the "No Action" alternative, meaning that HVHF will not proceed.

From page 5 of the statement: "The Department has determined that there are potential significant adverse environmental and public health impacts associated with high-volume hydraulic fracturing operations. Even with the implementation of an extensive suite of mitigation measures considered by the Department and described in these findings, the significant adverse public health and environmental impacts from allowing high-volume hydraulic fracturing to proceed under any scenario cannot be adequately avoided or minimized to the maximum extent practicable in accordance with SEQRA. In addition, as further described below, significant uncertainty remains regarding the level of risk to public health and the environment that would result from permitting high-volume hydraulic fracturing in New York, and regarding the degree of effectiveness of proposed mitigation measures. Consequently, and due to the limited economic and social benefits that would be derived from high-volume hydraulic fracturing, the No-Action alternative is the only reasonable alternative consistent with social, economic and other essential considerations. The Department is therefore selecting the No-Action alternative. These findings will apply statewide."

This is a victory for all of us who worked so hard to make this happen, for everyone who had been at risk from the potential harms of fracking on their neighbor's land or via a lease they may have unwittingly agreed to. Of course, all the other harms of fracking remain a risk, especially the pipelines, compressor stations, storage caverns, water withdrawals and other support systems. The same public health concerns that apply to fracking apply to such infrastructure, and we continue to push for a halt to this build out for the same reasons. But right now, along with the other decisions that were achieved last week, this is a moment to celebrate!

What Does an Art Museum Have to Do with the Spectra Pipeline?

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ribbon erikLate Tuesday night, a surprise art action took place at the site of the soon-to-open Whitney museum, bringing attention to the Spectra pipeline, the vault of which sits below the building's cantilevered design. The action was organized by a collaborative of international art and environmental groups, who have sent an open letter to the Whitney, asking six questions. During the action, The Illuminator projected a film onto the building's blank walls, pointing to the pipeline and showing scenes of earlier protests when the pipeline had been under construction, plus storm scenes from Hurricane Sandy (video above). The screening was followed by a symbolic ribbon cutting with special guest, Frida Kahlo of the famed Guerrilla Girls.

Sane Energy Project was founded because of the Spectra pipeline. Together with Occupy the Pipeline and multiple other community and anti-fracking groups, we fought the project for two years, in the courts and on the streets. On the day the pipeline went into service, in 2013, fourteen of us, including the local Councilman, were arrested for blocking traffic on the West Side Highway.
For us, it is important to remind the public, who may wish to visit the museum, of what sits beneath it, and why this pipeline, and the decision by the Whitney to site its new home there, are such a bad idea. Therefore, we were proud to be a part of this action. Here's a full recap:

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A new website, created for the action, contains a crash course video of the issues and a copy of the open letter to the Whitney. The letter asks six questions of the Whitney and invites them to a public assembly, hoping that representatives of the museum will take part in a  dialogue on art and fossil fuels.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7H-k1n2Tt9Q&w=560&h=315]

The ephemeral nature of the action continued with a "light graffiti" performance, by artist Vickie DaSilva, on the steps of the museum, captured by time-lapse photography (below):

vickie  DaSilva art

Artists also contributed to an "opening exhibit" for this particular inauguration, using the Whitney's collection for inspiration and tying the issue of fracking to the pipeline (see sample images, below). As Sane Energy Project Coordinator, Kim Fraczek, reminded the assembled crowd, we must be aware of what's happening "at the other end of this pipeline." Kim spoke of families who must hold bake sales in order to buy water to replace their poisoned wells.

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Response to the action was widespread and controversial, including coverage by The New York Times, ArtForum, and multiple art, enviro, and architectural media (see sampling of links below)

The New York Times: The Whitney "has yet to open its doors in a new location in the meatpacking district, but on Tuesday night it unwittingly played host to its first radical art exhibition."
 Gothamist: "Renzo Piano’s power-plant-like design for the new museum building makes for a perfect movie screen, allowing the mobile-projection team behind The Illuminator to project slogans and images of catastrophic storms onto the façade."
Popular Resistance: "Artist-activist Kim Fraczek reports that the goal of the artful protest was to 'engage the public to ask questions about fossil fuels, our future and what roles our institutions should play in leading us to a renewable future rather than succumbing to more fracked gas.' ”
Hyperallergic: "Frida Kahlo, a founding member of the renowned feminist art group the Guerrilla Girls, took part in the renegade ceremony." She said, "Museums have always overlooked big political issues, because their money comes from those powers that create those problems, and that’s why we really need to be the eternal thorn.”

Some media commenters were confused by the action, noting that the Whitney is not the operator of the pipeline. That's true, the museum did not build the pipeline, however, they did agree to house irreplaceable art (that will draw millions of visitors) on top of it. The organizers of the action hoped to draw the Whitney into a dialog about those decisions and their consequences, but so far, the trustees have remained mum.

The museum has now taken a page from Spectra's own playbook, issuing the same dogged reply to any media inquiries as to whether they are concerned about the safety of the pipeline, saying:
"Although the Spectra pipeline does not cross directly onto the Museum’s property, we followed the progress of the work because of its proximity to the site. Governmental regulators, who oversaw and monitored the pipeline’s construction, are responsible for ensuring that the pipeline’s ongoing operation meets all applicable standards and requirements."
A museum spokesperson has also stated that the art will be housed on the fifth floor of the museum, apparently concluding it will be safe there. The Whitney's statements, their understanding of blast radiuses, as well as their faith in regulatory agencies, have been refuted by Sane Energy Project (here and here are two responses). Just to emphasize how reckless those regulatory agencies are, note that they approved a second Spectra pipeline to be built adjacent to the Indian Point power plant.

Although we'd like to be celebrating the addition of any new art space to our city, it's hard for us to stomach the extravagant galas and red carpet events the opening of this museum is certain to bring, when we think about friends in upstate New York who live near one of the new compressor stations such pipelines have spawned, or families in Pennsylvania now raising money for a lawsuit against drillers.

These friends are now ill from exposure to emissions, and trapped in homes whose property values have plummeted, without relief from any government agency. This scenario has been repeated anywhere fracking has happened; the lives of ordinary people destabilized, their health at risk, their financial future uncertain.
This is why we felt we needed to bring attention, once again, to the Spectra pipeline. We could not be silent as the Whitney opens on top of it.

 [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jxh6lQAgBs&w=560&h=315]

Sane Refutes Whitney Assertion Their Art is Safe.

 

YAH whitneyOn March 12, The Villager published an account that detailed some of the concerns raised about the imminent opening of the new Whitney Museum, which sits directly above the Spectra pipeline. Sane Energy's response to the article refutes Spectra spokesperson Marylee Hanley's by-now-tired line about Spectra being built to "meet or exceed federal regulations," explaining exactly how lax those regulations are. Our letter to the editor was published one week before the East Village gas explosion, an accident whose scale would be much greater if it happened with a pipeline the size and pressure of Spectra's.

Above, the Sane Energy team at the site of the Spectra pipeline, with the new Whitney museum in the background, just across the West Side Highway in Manhattan.

Sorry, still in blast zone

To The Editor: Re “Gas pipeline protests no longer burn, but could problems flare in future?

Thank you, Ms. Stukane and The Villager for steadfastly following the story of the Spectra pipeline from the early moments of the review process through now, when the Whitney Museum is about to open on top of it.

We are eager when any new showcase for art opens, and support the cultural and economic boost the Whitney will bring to the West Village; and we are cognizant of the lack of real estate to build museums in Manhattan.

However, the choice to site anything so close to the Spectra pipeline is a choice we find utterly lacking in judgment. We wonder how this decision came to be.

Building the Whitney on top of the pipeline puts visitors, workers and irreplaceable art, not to mention a Renzo Piano creation, at risk. The museum’s spokesperson appears to express no worry, saying that the art will be stored five stories above the pipeline and that they are “trusting that the appropriate government agencies will stay on top of it.” Such trust is misplaced.

In the event of an explosion at the site of the vault, a crater at least the size of the museum itself is likely, and would affect an area about a block and a half in radius; with smoke, broken glass, closed streets and secondary fires affecting a much larger radius.

When a pipeline of similar size and pressure exploded in San Bruno, California, in 2010, it blew a crater four stories deep, and destroyed 38 suburban houses. Being five stories higher will do little to save the art or anyone viewing it. One wonders if the museum is adequately insured.

As for protection from the agencies charged with oversight, the federal regulations that Spectra’s spokesperson, Ms. Hanley, is so fond of referring to require internal inspection for corrosion only once every seven years. The 24-hour monitoring she refers to is done by remote computers in Texas. Such remote monitoring has been shown to fail on many occasions.

Secondary monitoring may be done by someone walking the route of the pipeline looking for dead grass or plants. (Gas leaks kill the roots of plants.) One may notice that most of the area stretching from Gansevoort Peninsula to the Whitney consists of the West Side Highway and sidewalks. In other words, it’s paved.

The Whitney is hardly the only institution that looked at the risks of the pipeline and shrugged. There are many businesses in close proximity to the route of the pipeline, including the Standard Hotel. The Friends of the High Line declined to take a stance against it when the pipeline was under review. One wonders what motivated them to put their own interests at risk the way they did.

In fairness, shouldn’t businesses and institutions be able to trust when regulatory agencies declare a project safe? The reality is they can’t, and they shouldn’t. The reality is that such agencies review projects with the interests of corporations in mind, not the interests of the public.

The Hudson River Park Trust, under the leadership of then-Mayor Bloomberg’s companion, Diana Taylor, saw to it that the easement for the pipeline was approved in a disgraceful display of influence over intelligence and for a pittance.

Bloomberg, with close ties to fracking founder George Mitchell, wanted the city to convert to shale gas and made sure this pipeline was built, over the objections of thousands of New Yorkers.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency that approves (and they always approve) pipeline projects, reviewed an environmental impact statement that was paid for by Spectra Energy. FERC declared, in the final environmental impact statement that not to approve the pipeline was impossible because to do so “would not meet the needs of the Applicant” (Spectra).

I am quoted as saying, “At this point, there isn’t anything more we [Sane Energy Project] can do,” as far as legal action to stop Spectra from operating this particular pipeline. However, there is plenty we can do — and continue to do — to educate the public and elected officials about the dangers and climate impact of pipelines and the use of shale (“natural”) gas, which contributes to climate change and sea level rise with an effect that is 86 times worse than carbon dioxide.

Sane Energy Project and our many allies continue to advocate for the city to halt the building of any additional fossil fuel infrastructure, and advocate for this city to build only renewable-energy infrastructure. We continue to advocate for an energy system that is democratically decided and takes the public’s input seriously. We remain hopeful that Mayor De Blasio is truly committed to his “80 by 50 plan” — to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2050 — and that he will discontinue the shale gas build-out that his Republican predecessor began.

– Clare Donohue Program Director, Sane Energy Project

Winter Reportback and upcoming events!

As Spring starts to peak around the corner, we continue the focus on infrastructure that we've been kicking out all winter. Lately it's been all about the You Are Here shale gas map (click here for upcoming demonstrations of the map), and getting the word out to oppose Port Ambrose LNG (click here for upcoming community events). See our full reportback here, or check out the media clips below. CD LB slideFeb. 14: DeSmog Blog "We have always been primarily focused on making people understand that infrastructure is part of fracking, that fracking is not just high-volume drilling, and that mission continues. Now we shift to making people understand that we aren't “safe” from fracking as long as all the related effects of fracking still exist."

Feb. 4: Capitol NY "Patrick Robbins, with the clean energy advocacy group Sane Energy, asked state officials to ensure that 'low-income, front-line communities,' such as those hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy, have a voice in the R.E.V. He and several others also asked the state to set specific goals in terms of renewable power generation and greenhouse gas reductions. 'We have not heard specific targets for renewable energy,' he said. 'The climate crisis demands nothing less than full renewable energy. We need you to put us on the right path.' "

Feb. 2: NY Daily News  "Nervous residents at a Marble Hill apartment complex are signaling local officials to stop freight trains from idling on the Metro North tracks below. The activists have gotten even more worked up since the fall, when they spotted black cars carrying hazardous material called liquid petroleum gas on some of the trains."

Jan. 27: The Indypendent "When it comes to finding an alternative to heavy heating oils like No. 6 and No. 4, Donohue said that biodiesel was the best option, especially because researchers in the United States and Europe are developing ways to produce biofuel from plants like grass and algae, which do not need to be cultivated on land that’s suitable for growing food."

Jan. 16: Long Island Herald "Now, officials and a number of environmental groups, inlcuding Sane Energy, the Surfrider Foundation, All Our Energy and Clean Ocean Action, are calling on the U.S. Maritime Administration and U.S. Coast guard to deny Liberty's most recent application and urging Cuomo to veto it, saying that the terminal would hurt the environment, increase the region’s dependence on foreign fuel and create the potential for an offshore catastrophe or terrorist attacks."

PR at BaldwinDec. 19: The Wave  "Activist groups, New Yorkers Against Fracking and Sane Energy Project, have been making rounds to inform the coastal public—and everyone else for that matter—about the LNG and its potential dangers. Jessica Roff, of New Yorkers Against Fracking, and Patrick Robbins, of Sane Energy Project, hosted an informational meeting on the Port Ambrose project at the Macedonia Baptist Church in Arverne on Monday, Dec. 15. Robbins noted that the issue 'has particular resonance here when we think about who is impacted by global warming—I mean, that’s coastal communities.' ”

map imageDec. 31: DC Bureau  "Other projects are apt to continue drawing intense local opposition. They include Crestwood Midstream’s planned liquid petroleum gas, or LPG, storage project near Watkins Glen and the proposed Port Ambrose export terminal for liquified natural gas in the ocean off New York City. Here is a map that locates and describes more than 20 New York energy infrastructure projects: http://www.youareherenymap.org."

Dec. 21: Huffington Post  "The proceedings included a presentation by Clare Donohue, founding member of the Sane Energy Project. She spoke about energy issues throughout New York State, illustrated by a continually evolving map called You Are Here. The goal of the project is, 'To put a human face on the places at risk or already devastated by fracking infrastructure in New York.' "

Dec. 20: The Rockaway Times  "A Rockaway community information meeting was held on the latest metamorphosis on The Port Ambrose project. This meeting about the latest proposed LNG project, just off our shores, was moderated by Jessica Roff of New Yorkers Against Fracking and Patrick Robbins of Sane Energy Project. Each spelled out the same concerns that we faced several years ago when our community and surrounding communities banned together to voice our opposition to the LNG Island off our shores."

Dec 17: Grist “ 'Cuomo pointed out himself the relentless public pressure,' said Patrick Robbins, a spokesperson for the Sane Energy Project, a New York-based organization that promotes shifting from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy. 'I also think it’s important to note the role of organizing at the local level—the commissioner mentioned many times the impact that local bans would have on the profit margins of this industry.' ”

Rosenthal and Hoylman Oppose Port Ambrose; Call on Colleagues to Join Them

hoylmanrosenthal UPDATE: NY Daily News has reported that 52 state  legislators signed onto the Rosenthal-Hoylman letter!

Great news! State Senator Brad Hoylman and Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal have written a letter to Governor Cuomo asking him to veto the project.

The letter covers all the bases: It makes the point that Port Ambrose is unnecessary, brings up the security and explosion risks of the project, connects the dots between LNG and climate change, AND makes the case that we should build offshore wind in that area instead.

It's been remarkable over the last few months to see politicians from all sides of the aisle standing up to Port Ambrose. This is an issue that brings together politicians who don't always agree on many things, and it speaks to the urgency and seriousness of the threat that Port Ambrose poses to our communities.

Here's how you can help: If your rep didn't sign on, get them to draft their own letter to Cuomo!

Biodiesel: The Best Option Available

Related article here. jar bioDSane Energy Project has been a fan of biodiesel since the NYC local law that required buildings to stop burning heavy heating oils went into effect in 2011. That law, enacted by the Bloomberg administration, was the excuse to build out more natural gas infrastructure, including the Spectra pipeline and the Rockaway pipeline, and for Bloomberg to justify his support for fracking in upstate New York.

While we encourage buildings to convert their boilers to cleaner fuels, we'd prefer building owners and superintendents to make decisions with a greater awareness of the options. That is only now starting to happen.

The Lie of "Cleaner Burning."

Many building owners and government officials bought into the propaganda that shale gas is "cleaner" and would stave off asthma cases in New York City. However, if cleaner air is really the goal, the law would be changed to encourage the use of biodiesel, the cleanest heating fuel, and combined with better incentives for the use of renewables and efficiency retrofits, with programs such as on-bill financing.

Unfortunately for those who thought they were doing a good thing, it turns out that burning shale gas has a worse effect on air quality in both the local and larger sense. Of course burning shale gas means more fracking, and since air impacts can affect a radius of 200 miles, New York is well within the zone for drilling that's being done in Pennsylvania. Not only that, shale gas produces MORE particulate matter (a leading cause of asthma) than number 2 oil, and far more particulate matter than biodiesel.

BioD emissions reductions

black smoke When a burner using heavy oil malfunctions, thick black smoke is released from the chimney. The oily soot has been a plague for years and it's good to see the skies looking cleaner. But is it actually cleaner? According to boiler expert Henry Gifford, when a burner using gas malfunctions, it releases carbon monoxide, which is invisible. How will we know when that happens?

A History Lesson.

For the first several years that the law was in effect, decision makers were essentially shown only a portion of the menu, with heavy emphasis on gas conversions and incentives to sweeten the deal. The City's own "Clean Heat" program, a partnership between Con Ed and EDF (labeled by some anti-frackers as the "Environmental Destruction Fund" for their alleged green-washing programs), fed into a panicked rush by building managers to comply with deadlines. When Con Ed couldn't build gas mains fast enough to meet demand there was near-hysteria in parts of the Upper East Side. Public forums turned into shouting matches between co-op board presidents and fractivists.

As was to be expected, many more buildings converted than were required to; only 1% of the building stock ever needed to convert. The investment required for two new transmission pipelines would not have made economic sense simply to service a mere 10,000 buildings. Projections repeatedly targeted 50% of buildings to convert. (You can use this map to see how many buildings have already converted to gas.)

gas conversion

 

With the expense of constructing new pipelines and mains to consider, Con Ed made building owners "an offer they couldn't refuse:" A system known as "clustering," encouraged neighboring buildings to convert whether they needed to or not. Say the building next to you needed to convert. Well, Con Ed wouldn't run a gas main down the block for just one building. So they offered buildings in a particular area free connections if they committed to gas–noting that, should they decide to convert later on, the connection (possibly a $100,000 cost), would no longer be free. With gas prices as low as they have been, many building owners went for it, even with conversion costs running into the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. Even with those kinds of large capitol costs, the only testimonials on the Clean Heat website today are from owners who have converted to gas.

Will Gas Prices Spike?

All indications point to future price volatility with gas. The majority of shale fields have already peaked, and even the motherlode that is the Marcellus is expected to peak starting in 2016, just one year from now. Combining future production drop-offs with the current push for export, higher global prices are likely to raise domestic gas prices.

2016 peak PCI copy

 

Another unexpected shift has been the overproduction in the Bakken oil fields combined with OPEC's move to flood the market, lowering heating oil costs.

At the same time, the biodiesel industry is developing. Algae is expected to be the energy crop of the future, with very high yields anticipated. Even locally, companies such as Tri-State Biodiesel are expanding production, anticipating enough clean fuel to heat at least 10,000 buildings.

Where Are We Now?

Things have calmed down since the initial frenzy after the law was passed. Even the Clean Heat program now includes BioD in it's menu of options. Con Ed also relaxed the rules for buildings, no longer insisting that they disable their storage tanks if they choose to convert to "firm gas" (all gas) in order to take advantage of all the incentives offered.

At this point, of the approximately 10,000 buildings that were required to convert, less than 1,000 buildings remain undecided in their fuel choices. We'd love to see those buildings choose the sustainable conversion we and others envision: a program that combines efficiency measures with biodiesel and solar thermal for hot water.

2 oil conversions

 

And beyond the remaining #6 burners, there is hope for expanding the use of bioD in the future: For one thing, more buildings converted to Number 2 oil than converted to firm gas. Those buildings can still convert to BioD any time they would like, with very low or no additional cost. And, many of the buildings that wanted to take advantage of "cheap" gas prices converted to "dual fuel" boiler systems. Dual systems allow for the burning of gas OR liquid fuels, which means they can also choose to burn biodiesel any time the pricing works in their favor.

For us, a recent article in the Indypendent (in which we were also quoted) offered us hope that biodiesel will catch on as more superintendents become familiar with it. Here's what one building manager, who's quoted in the article, says about his real life experience with biodiesel:

Mitch Lappin, who runs a 12-story, 120,000-square-foot office building on West 20th Street, said that he was initially skeptical of biodiesel. But after cleaning out the fuel tank and making a few adjustments to the air and fuel intake, the biodiesel performed better than he expected. “According to one of my combustion guys who tested the boiler’s efficiency, he said: What you’re pushing now as far as efficiency of that boiler, which was, so to speak, born in 1979, it’s fantastic. I don’t see those numbers anywhere.”

 For more information about boiler conversions, click here.

TSB truck

The Infrastructure Report: NED Pipeline

One of the largest and most outrageously unnecessary projects yet proposed is the Kinder Morgan "NED" (Northeast Energy Direct) pipeline, which would span from Pennsylvania through New York (along an almost identical route as the Constitution) then cross over into Massachusetts and New Hamphire. The stated purpose of the line is to bring gas to New England, but MA residents have already shown there is no true demand for this gas, exposing the real reason the builders want it: to connect to a proposed export terminal in Nova Scotia.

NED Map Lg

Background: Kinder Morgan (KM) / Tennessee Gas Pipeline (TGP) pre-filed this project on Sept. 15, 2014 (Docket #PF14-22). The project includes new pipeline segments, laterals, loops, metering and compressor stations. To view an interactive online map, click here (the route is approximate). This pipeline crosses areas that have never had pipelines before and would never have experienced drilling.

On Dec. 8, 2014, following heavy local organizing by opponents, a new “preferred route” was filed, which moved some portions out of Columbia County, NY and into Rensselaer County, NY, as well as further north into Berkshire County, MA and into southern New Hampshire, before re-entering Massachusetts at the terminal hub in Dracut. The new route contains an extra compressor station as well.

Because of all the resistance pipelines have been generating, activists were way out in front on this project well before it was officially activated in the FERC system. Although it is only 4 months since the pre-filing, already all 400 landowners between Wright, NY and the MA border (including the alternative route in Rensselaer County) have been contacted by local activists. So far, 44 town resolutions have been passed in Massachusetts (none yet in NY but stay tuned).

More info for NY residents here. More info for MA residents here.

maritimes-northeast-pipeline
The NED line would connect in Dracut, MA with the existing Maritimes & Northeast line, owned by Spectra/Algonquin. That line is also proposed for enlargement and will connect to a newly approved LNG export terminal in Nova Scotia.

The project is still early in its process. At this point, Kinder Morgan is conducting a series of “open houses,” informal “trade show” meetings where KM reps have displays and mingle with townspeople to answer questions and make their sales pitch. There is no comment period open yet.

New York Area Open Houses: • MONDAY, FEBRUARY 9, New Lebanon, NY, 6–8PM, New Lebanon Junior-Senior HS, 14665 NY Route 22, New Lebanon, NY 12125, Map • TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 10, Pittsfield, MA, 6–8PM, Berkshire Community College Cafeteria, 1350 West St., Pittsfield, MA, Map

• THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 12, New Scotland, NY, 6–8PM, Colonie Country Club, 141 Maple Rd., Voorheesville, NY 12186, Map

The full list of open houses can be found here. Stakeholders may participate in Open Houses however they are comfortable; there may be rallies outside, or spreading information inside. Participants are asked to please keep it friendly, professional, non-confrontational.

The Infrastructure Report, January 20, 2015

FERC is not the only agency involved in infrastructure projects. Right now it's all about the NYS DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation), which may play a crucial role in whether several projects ever get the necessary permits needed to begin construction:

 

ALGONQUIN INCREMENTAL MARKET (AIM) PIPELINE EXTENSION Because this pipeline expansion requires new and enlarged compressor stations, the DEC must first issue air permits. The compressors would be located in Southeast, near the NY/CT border, and in Stony Point, in Rockland County.

Submit written comments to: Michael T. Higgins, Project Manager, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Environmental Permits, 625 Broadway, 4th Floor, Albany, NY 12233-1750, Phone: (518) 402-9179, E-mail: AIMProject@dec.ny.gov

Sample comments here. Deadline: February 27th, 2015. The pipeline is also opposed in Connecticut. Sign the petition against the CT portion here. 

 

CONSTITUTION PIPELINE Two pieces of good news: 1) The DEC has extended public comment period until Feb. 27th.  This could make it difficult for builders to get construction fully under way before the seasonal prohibition on cutting down trees begins. That could greatly delay landscape damage from the project and hopefully the project will be forestalled before the season opens again next Fall. 2) The Army Corps of Engineers, another agency charged with reviewing the pipeline, is concerned enough about wetland impacts to request additional data from the applicant. The Daily Star reports: "Data being sought by the Army Corps includes updated estimates of impacts to wetlands and a final feasibility analysis of site-specific plans for trenchless crossing operations that could impact wetlands. It also specifically asked for plans that would 'avoid and minimize impact' to 'unique and difficult to replace wetlands.' ”

Sample comments hereDeadline: February 27th, 2015. These sample letters can be used as a basis to write personalized comments to the DEC. Comments can be input directly on the STP website.

 

SENECA LAKE STORAGE CAVERNS There are two types of gas storage proposed at Seneca lake: the methane portion is overseen by FERC; the LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas or propane) portion is overseen by the DEC. That part of the project is currently on hold as the DEC studies the plan. A conference is scheduled in February to allow experts on both sides to make their case.

A local judge has already decreed that protestors will no longer have the option of choosing jail time (which was costing the county money) and now requires a stiff fine from all arrested at the blockade. Town officials are going to absurd lengths to prevent a normal democratic process, including locking the public out of judicial proceedings on a sub-zero night, with the excuse of preventing shrubs from becoming trampled.

What you can do to help: Sign the petitions and support the jail fund for the Seneca Lake Defenders.

 

ALBANY "BOMB" TRAINS Although there are no upcoming deadlines, the crude oil trains are another issue awaiting a DEC decisions at the moment. More info here.

Dragonslayer Report, Dec. 22, 2014

• NYS KILLS HVHF DEAD: Banning fracking this past Wednesday was a huge win after years of effort. Of course, we know this is a beginning and not an end. But to answer some of the questions we've been getting, it is most definitely an end to this type of drilling; when it becomes DEC statute next year, it will not require confirmation by the legislature or Governor and it will be very difficult to reverse. "Legally binding" are the key words in Marten's statement (below). However, to address another set of member questions, unless Martens decides to go over and above (we'll have to read the exact policy once released) the DEC is not expected to ban low-volume or vertical drilling, which was never covered by the moratorium. Injection wells, which are overseen by the EPA, are also not covered by this ruling. (See the You Are Here map for the location of three known injection wells in upstate NY.) These types of drilling remain legal in NY, and could be an excellent new target for those groups that have focused primarily on getting a ban.

dec decision

 

GarySouthern• FREEDOM INDUSTRY CHIEF LOSES HIS FREEDOM: Last February, Sane Energy reported on our trip to West Virginia shortly after the massive chemical spill by Freedom Industries poisoned the drinking water supply for the capitol city. Toured around by our friends from OVEC, we witnessed first-hand what a major city attempting to function without potable water was like. Now, four former executives, including president Gary Southern, who famously guzzled bottled water on camera the night the spill was discovered, have been indicted under the Clean Water Act. Dick Cheney, we're looking at your Christmas Future, babe.

• TWO NAILS FOR ARTIC DRILLING: 1) President Obama withdrew Bristol Bay, a major source of wild seafood, from consideration for leases and, 2) Chevron canceled its drilling plans for the Beaufort Sea, citing the high cost of deepwater drilling versus the low price of oil. However, Imperial Oil, a joint venture with Exxon, says it has not made a final decision on whether to drill Beaufort. Maybe Exxon and Chevron are just slower taking a hint compared to Shell, which canceled its arctic drilling last January, after a court ruled that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)–the federal agency that permits offshore drilling–intentionally downplayed the impacts it would have on the fragile Arctic Ocean environment. Even industry analysts called Shell on its blunders. Shell's retreat was hinted at last year, when outgoing chief, Peter Voser, told the Financial Times that he regretted the company's investments in American oil and shale, saying, "Unconventionals did not exactly play out as planned."

2016 peak PCI

• SPEAKING OF UNCONVENTIONALS NOT PLAYING OUT AS PLANNED: The Post Carbon Institute (PCI) has released a study comparing industry claims with actual production numbers and calculated their own predictions for the future of American shale oil and gas. PCI's number crunching indicates not a "100-year supply," but rather a peak in the Marcellus by 2016 (almost all other shale plays have already peaked) and a steep drop off by 2040. The full report can be viewed here.

This latest study echoes pioneering work that drew the same conclusion of overhyped industry claims done by Deborah Rogers, Art Berman, Jannette Barth, and 4 cabaleros from upstate New York, which was confirmed in a study released by the League of Women Voters in 2014.

If shale gas peaks in 2016, does that mean the industry will stop drilling then? No; in fact, it means they will attempt to drill MORE wells to keep their production numbers up, while they desperately try to convince Wall Street there's enough gas to export. Of course, by the time LNG export terminals and all the required pipelines could be built, the shale plays will be in steep decline.

Our job then is to stop all the infrastructure we can, as fast as we can. Please join us in that fight!

FERC’s Dysfunctional Dominion Hearing Creates Backlash

David-and-Goliath-1In his book, David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell discusses several historical examples, from Northern Ireland to the American Civil Rights movement, when public resistance has been spurred (and subsequently succeeded) whenever the powers that be have gone overboard in their ruthlessness, oppressiveness, hubris, or simple ineptness. Such an example is before us at this very moment, playing out in a corner of New York State not previously known for widespread anti-fracking activity. Until recently, something like a compressor station proposal would have gone mostly unnoticed, signed off and built before neighbors had even heard about it. That’s no longer the case. Now, the hubris and ineptness of FERC and the pipeline builders is creating a level of response to infrastructure projects like never before. This is a new era. New Yorkers are wising up to the reality that fracking means much more than drilling.

Here is just one account of a current situation, as told to Sane Energy Project by witnesses:

It was a brisk evening on October 8th when Suzy Winkler, a resident of Burlington, NY, drove out to the tiny community of Georgetown in Madison County, to provide input on Dominion Transmission’s pipeline project. Little did she know that she would find herself in a mosh pit of upset New Yorkers from across the state.
FERC (The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) had booked the tiny town hall to take public testimony on Dominion’s New Market Project, a scheme for bringing another 112,000 dekatherms per day of gas into New York from the fracking fields of Pennsylvania. Shockingly, it was the only scoping hearing that FERC had scheduled for a project spanning 200 miles and involving the construction of three massive compressor stations. Violating fire codes, 200 people—including octogenarians—were stuffed into an overcrowded room with a legal capacity of only 132. FERC even failed to provide amplification, which prevented people from hearing what was said.

Dom FERC hearing

While many left because they felt unsafe in the cramped space, Suzy stood for nearly three hours before a seat finally became available. She had gone through too much already just to confirm that the hearing was happening, and get there—an hour drive—to think about leaving. There had been no mention of the hearing on the federal website and, earlier that day, a FERC staffer on the phone repeatedly insisted—falsely—that the hearing wasn’t happening.
Disregard for health and safety, deceiving the public, and preventing people most impacted from being heard—this was not only FERC’s modus operandi for the fiasco on October 8th; it has been how FERC and Dominion have operated from the outset of this proposal. The New Market Project is a major expansion of a fifty-year-old pipeline network that runs through nine counties. By increasing the pressure or velocity of gas in its pipeline, communities along the project’s entire 200-mile corridor would potentially be exposed to greater risk of leaks, fire and explosion. Furthermore, Dominion proposes to build two huge 11,000 horsepower compressor stations in Horseheads (Chemung County) and Georgetown (Madison County) and dramatically expand another compressor station to 18,600 horsepower at Brookman Corners (Montgomery County, near Otsego and Herkimer counties). Equipment modifications are also proposed in Dryden, Utica, and Schenectady.
NM map BHIf approved, the three compressor stations alone would pump a whopping 200,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere every year, in addition to dangerous pollutants that threaten public health—chemicals like Nitrogen Oxides, Volatile Organic Compounds, Carbon Monoxide, Sulphur Dioxide and Formaldehyde. As Suzy puts it, “I‘m familiar with the Brookman Corners compressor station. It’s not that big today, but will become a monster if this goes through. How can Dominion call these 'upgrades' when the air we breathe will be worse?”
Given the project’s scale and potential impacts, you might think that FERC would at least require an Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, to fully consider all of these complex issues. You would be wrong. Instead, FERC wants to review Dominion’s proposal through an Environmental Assessment—a much faster and far less rigorous process.
Furthermore, you would expect there to be hearings scheduled in each affected community, especially where compressor stations are proposed to be built or enlarged. After all, shouldn’t each impacted community be given the same opportunity to provide input on a project that could affect their land, health, and livelihood? Not according to FERC.
So far FERC has said it will hold only one additional hearing in the same area as the first dysfunctional meeting, close to just one of the proposed compressors.
Make no mistake about it—people want to be heard. Despite terrible accommodations, the chaotic mockery of the meeting on October 8th lasted past midnight. Moreover, individuals and town boards outside of Madison County—who only recently learned of Dominion’s plans—have filed complaints with FERC demanding additional hearings in their communities too.

Dom hearing Bill H

Clearly FERC’s system of rubber-stamp approvals and ignoring the public is broken in a way that goes far beyond any one project. But for now, there are three concrete steps that must be taken with respect to Dominion’s “New Market Project:”
• First, the public calls for a 90-day extension of the scoping comment period. The previously announced deadline of October 20th was laughably short.
• Second, scoping meetings must be held in each community that Dominion’s proposal impacts. Holding meetings in only one location for a proposed project that spans 200 miles is simply absurd. The public has a right to participate and be provided reasonable access.
• Finally, it is unacceptable to substitute an Environmental Assessment for an Environmental Impact Statement on a project of this magnitude. The public demands a full EIS to thoroughly examine all impacts and alternatives. The people of New York State deserve nothing less.
Please click here for instructions on how to file the above demands as comments to FERC. Our thanks to Suzy Winkler and Keith Schue for their reporting, and area activists for their attentiveness. 
Video of the press conference prior to the hearing with Sandra Steingraber, Ruth Ann Stone, Nicole Dillingham, Keith Schue and Wes Gillingham:
 [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIZv4Ytzgus&w=560&h=315]

FERC and the Regulatory Trap

By Citizen Sane (John Trallo) Reposted with permission 

The oil and gas industry, as they work towards turning North America into a 'third-world' style extraction colony, is now in the process of expanding their pipeline infrastructure on an unprecedented scale. The agency that is trusted with overseeing and permitting this infrastructure is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (aka: FERC), but really their job is to issue permits. Although they are obligated by law to allow 'public input' and consider public comments before making their decision to issue a permit, at the end of the day, public opinion carries no weight and has never influenced their decision, or caused them to deny a permit. NEVER.

Here's why: You may or may not be aware that FERC is NOT really a government agency, anymore than say, the Federal Reserve Bank is. Just because they have the word "Federal" in their name does not mean they're the government. Where I grew up in Philadelphia, there is a soft pretzel maker called "The Federal Baking Company," and they weren't a government agency either.

FERC logoThe truth is, FERC is a private entity largely funded by the API and ANGA, and chaired in part by former oil and gas  representatives, that is licensed by the US Department of Energy to issue permits. Their job is to see that every application meets the minimum criteria to justify approval.

I learned this when I registered as an "intervener" in the Inergy/CNYOG Marc-1 pipeline project in Northeast Pennsylvania. CNYOG (Central New York Oil and Gas) is a division of Inergy Midstream, L.P., which merged with Crestwood Midstream in 2013, and now both are identified as Crestwood Equity Partners, L.P. This is the company that wants to install an underground gas storage facility in abandoned salt mines under Seneca Lake in New York.

The short version of my experience is as follows.

The Marc-1 pipeline is a 39-mile connecting hub (now constructed) between the Tennessee and the Transco pipelines. It involved the clear cutting of approximately 650 acres of greenfield forest, the removal of approximately 250,000 trees (many old growth), disturbance of protected wildlife habitat, 122 sensitive HV/EQ (High Value/Exceptional Quality) stream crossings, and intrusion onto 104 private properties.

Myself, and other concerned citizens launched a massive campaign to stop the Marc-1. We submitted 22,093 signatures opposing the project, in addition to a bi-partisan coalition of 35 Pennsylvania State Representatives and two State Senators. Even the EPA stepped in and declared the project unnecessary, since the natural gas in the region was already being moved to market via the Tennessee and the Transco.

After we effectively stalled the project for 18 months by demanding justification for the project, environmental impact statements, and concerns about eminent domain abuse, etc., the three Sullivan County, PA Commissioners, along with a few U.S. congressmen with no connection to Pennsylvania, asked FERC to "overlook the localized concerns," and expeditiously approve the project.

FERC issued a pre-vetted statement thanking everyone for being involved and expressing their heartfelt thoughts and concerns, assured all property owners that eminent domain would "only be used as a last resort"– and only if all negotiations between CNYOG and the landowners failed – and approved the project. All of which was done "class one," which means minimum safety standards, and no local, state, or federal oversight.

The very next day, eminent domain was filed against 89 of the private landowners, most of which were never previously notified of a proposed Right-of-Way on their property, or had the chance to negotiate terms. All 89 property owners went to court, and all 89 lost.

In FERC's history, they have NEVER denied a permit for any oil and gas infrastructure project unless the operator withdrew the application. The FERC regulatory/permitting process is designed and orchestrated to render public opinion meaningless, ineffective, and destined to fail.

Here's why: The regulatory system is stacked. (See this link for a deeper explanation.) It's important for people to understand that the "regulatory system" is designed only to regulate the rate of damage to public health and the environment, not to prevent damage. Hence the terms, "necessary sacrifice" and "unintended consequences."

That is not to say that citizens should not get involved with the FERC regulatory process. You should, to get on record. You just have to also act outside the FERC process on the local municipality level to zone it out, or make it too expensive for the operator.

The ideal way to stop pipelines is by establishing a Community Bill of Rights that essentially "zones out" this kind of activity, or restricts it and establishes safety standards and set-backs in such a way that it is no longer economically worthwhile for an operator to build. The concept of a Community Bill of Rights has been championed by CELDF (the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund), a non-profit, public interest law firm providing free and affordable legal services to communities facing threats to their local environment and quality of life. CELDF has assisted more than 150 communities across the country to establish such ordinances.

Myself, along with other members of the Shale Justice Coalition are now working with communities along the 176-mile path of the proposed Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline Project by Williams Midstream. So far, we've gotten three municipalities to begin enacting community bill of rights ordinances. 

Now, the industry, and most local solicitors, will claim that these ordinances "will be challenged, inspire law suits, and be overturned," however, in the communities in PA, TX, LA, where Community Bills of Rights have been established, this has not happened. The reason is that the ordinance brings into question "corporate personhood:" Under the Constitution all people [persons] are equal under the law, which means that no "person" can claim to have more rights than another, and the rights of one can not take precedent over the rights of another. The legal challenge to corporate personhood would mean that if any corporation were indeed a "person," then they would have to explain why they believe that they have more rights, or why their rights should matter more than actual citizens. 

And that is a can of worms that industry does NOT want to risk opening.

 

Will Casino Deal Open New York to Fracking?

Bottom line: Yes, it could. As of today, June 30, 2014, land within Madison and Oneida counties (just east of Syracuse) that is owned by the Oneida Indian Nation becomes eligible for conversion to federal "Trust" land and subject to Bureau of Land Management rules. According to Bureau of Indian Affairs spokesperson Nedra Darling, “As of June 30, the Department of the Interior will take the land into trust at a time of its choosing.” The change comes as a result of a settlement deal brokered by Cuomo and Oneida Indian Nation Representative and CEO, Ray Halbritter. This settlement is a casino deal, but one with implications that concern fractivists. Because federal land is not subject to state or local law, under Obama's "All of the Above" energy policy, the change could open the door to fracking within New York State, despite a de facto moratorium.

Background on the Settlement

iroquis lands

More than fifty five million acres nationally are held in federal trust. The Oneida Nation is considered a leader in the movement among tribes to buy back and federalize their lands. Starting in the 1990s, using profits from their Turning Stone casino, the Oneida Nation began buying parcels (about thirteen thousand acres) scattered within Madison and Oneida counties, asserting that once they owned it, those parcels would be tax exempt. The tribe wanted to avoid local and state taxes on cigarette and gasoline sales and casino profits. The state brought a lawsuit to prevent that, and while the state won the suit, the case opened the door for the Oneidas to escape taxation by putting the lands into trust. In September 2009, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Kahn ruled that placing the land into trust is constitutional.
Signed by Cuomo and Halbritter in May of 2013, the agreement intends to resolve litigation going back to 1970, over back taxes totaling approximately $800 million. The agreement grants the Oneida Nation exclusive gaming rights in ten counties, with a portion of the revenues generated to go to state and local governments. Payments would equal approximately $50 million annually. The agreement also grants the Oneida Nation sovereign control of up to 25,000 acres (they currently hold a little less than 18,000 acres).
The towns of Vernon and Verona are challenging the settlement. But new federal rules allow the transfer of land into trust while litigation is pending. It seems a long shot that the lawsuits might hold up the transfer, and there appears to be no injunction option that meets the necessary legal standard of "immediate and irreparable harm."
Several local representatives have praised the deal, including State Senators Griffo and Velesky, and Assembly Members Blankenbush and Brindisi. But not all officials are happy about the deal: Syracuse.com reported that John Becker, Chair of the Madison County Board of Supervisors, fought back tears as he "told colleagues he doesn't like the agreement but felt he had no choice but to vote yes." Assembly Member Claudia Tenny, a Republican gun advocate and opponent of gay marriage, opposes the deal and suggested that Cuomo was "ramrodding another thing through," noting the deal would create a devastating and permanent loss of sales and real estate tax for localities.

Concerns Stoked by the Deal

The agreement has raised concerns for residents in Madison and Oneida counties, ranging from loss of tax revenue to logistics such as who will control snow plowing, building code and law enforcement, and the question of fracking. Remembering Cuomo's suggestion that the Southern Tier be used as a test case, some believe that opening the state to fracking is a hidden motivation behind the deal. Others maintain there is no hidden agenda and point out that negotiations have been going on since before fracking was an issue.
Sane Energy Project has looked into those concerns related to fracking, such as:

A lack of transparency 

While following this story for more than a year, we've found much of the surrounding background to the deal nearly impenetrable. The situation is a hornet's nest of long-running lawsuits, back taxes and accusations from all sides. Few citizens are well-informed about the details, and even local officials involved in related litigation were unaware that the land was about to be placed into trust, until a local newspaper published the announcement. The deal is not open to public comment of any kind, and is no longer open to legislative action.

Fear of compulsory integration 

oneida mapSome local residents worry that the 25,000 acres the deal allows the Oneida Nation to hold in trust will turn into 300,000 acres (the total acreage allotted to the reservation, shown on map at left) and that the privately-held land that lies between the Oneida-owned parcels will essentially be compulsorily integrated. It is unusual for scattered parcels to be taken into trust, something known as "checker boarding," which federal agencies normally avoid. The non-contiguous position of Oneida-held parcels does raise some logistical questions, noted above.
However, our reading of the settlement does not support the suggestion that all 300,000 reservation acres will become federalized: the deal sets a "permanent" cap of 25,000 acres that can be under Oneida sovereign control, which may be taken into trust by the Department of Interior. Under the language in the deal, the Oneidas Nation expressly waives their rights of sovereignty over any land above the cap amount.
On the other hand, since the Oneida Nation is allowed to purchase approximately 7,000 additional acres to take into trust, that does raise the question of where those parcels may fall.

map tribal land

Fear of shale gas development

Some fear that fracking will begin once the lands are taken into trust. However, whether gas will be developed on Oneida land is a complicated question.
The Oneidas and Onondagas are neighboring members of the Iroquois League. While the Onondagas have demonstrated a clear anti-fracking stance, under Halbritter's leadership, the Oneida Nation appears more open to developing natural gas. The Oneidas have shown interest in drilling on tribal property before, hoping to use the gas to power their casino. Vertical, low-volume drilling has historically been done in the area and, via the firm, Ardent Resources, the Oneida Nation purchased 123 gas leases. However, that was in 2004, well before fracking was on most people's radar, and before the Halliburton Loophole was added to federal energy policy in 2005, a change that removed fracking from oversight within the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, and launched the modern fracking era.
Under the agreement reached with the state, the Oneida Nation retain the rights to their land and any leasing would have to be instigated by them, unlike federal public lands that the Department of the Interior can lease simply with executive approval.
In all likelihood, based on production data of similar shale and sandstone reported by four experts in January of 2014, there's very little gas to be gotten in the area that is being federalized. Reports are that test wells the Oneida Nation had drilled turned out to be duds–consistent with the expert's predictions. However, as the experts also noted, projections of poor production won't stop wildcat drillers from trying, and every well drilled is a potential aquifer contamination.

Fear of frack waste disposal

Possibly more worrisome, the area's geology could prove tempting for injection wells to dispose of frack waste. We know Pennsylvania drillers are desperate for places to unload their flowback and drill cuttings.
The DEC database accounts for 71 old/existing wells in Oneida county and 144 in Madison. In addition to new injection wells being created, old wells could be converted into injection wells. Old wells also make for easy migration of fracking fluids used in new drilling, which can consequentially migrate into aquifers. Any injection wells would have to be approved by the EPA–however, the EPA has no mandated public hearing process for injection wells, and does not post those wells publicly on their website until the applicant has already received a provisional permit.
Some New York landfills along the Pennsylvania border are already accepting frack waste, and because drill cuttings weigh more than municipal waste, it is seen by some cash-strapped towns as more profitable. Some towns also accept frack brine and brine-derived salt for road use. These decisions are hotly debated, and usually made at the town or county level under DEC oversight, but once the lands are federal, disposal on tribal property could happen without public input from neighbors outside Oneida Nation borders.

What Now?

Whatever the intention or history around this deal, the bottom line is: the land will become federal land. It will be exempt from state or local law, and will be open to fracking, and frack waste disposal will no longer be under local control.
For us, watching this situation develop has been akin to realizing your car is sliding off the road on black ice and you can't do a thing to stop it.
We are mightily frustrated but hope that, in the absence of legal options, there may be other means of preventing environmental damage in these counties, hopefully through productive dialogue. Meanwhile, we will continue to monitor the situation carefully.