EDITORIAL: Stop this pipeline

WITH ALL THE THINGS to worry about, why would anybody get upset over a new natural gas pipeline, let alone the source of the gas? But sure enough, some of our neighbors have sounded the alarm about a proposed pipeline that would traverse parts of Chatham, Canaan and New Lebanon, carrying gas from wells in Pennsylvania to the Massachusetts coast. The gas will come from wells drilled using hydraulic fracturing.

Gas is already piped along a similar route through this county by Tennessee Gas Pipeline, a subsidiary of the Kinder Morgan company. The same firm proposes the new line. There’s a compressor station for the existing pipeline near Malden Bridge in Chatham. It’s been there for decades. The new pipeline would require a new facility in Canaan, the pipe diameter would be bigger and gas would flow at a higher pressure, more than two billion cubic feet of gas per day, assuming there’s a market for that much.

The proposed pipeline would reportedly run beneath 55 private properties in Columbia County if it’s approved by federal regulators. The property owners would have to grant rights of way to the company. Neither the towns nor the county could intervene.
Opponents say that property values along and nearby the roughly 50-foot-wide pipeline right of way would lose value. The company’s website, www.kindermorgan.com, dismisses that claim, saying research shows pipelines have little or no impact on property values. One of the sources the company cites in support of that conclusion is the INGAA Foundation, founded by the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, which represents gas pipeline companies. Not exactly an impartial source.

Among the other issues raised by opponents are safety and cost to taxpayers. It seems logical that pumping gas down buried pipelines is not as risky a shipping it through communities in outdated railroad tank cars. But at the volume of gas the company proposes, rail shipments aren’t practical. Instead the safety argument focuses on the company’s preventive measures available in rural areas like ours. Some gas pipes are safer than others.

Gas pipelines–there are 2.6-million miles of them in the U.S.– seldom rupture or leak, but when they do the results can be catastrophic for a community. They can also be expensive in terms of the emergency response and the destruction of homes and livelihoods. The Federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in the Department of Transportation reports 266 pipeline safety enforcement “cases” were opened last year. Some were probably routine, nothing like the pipeline explosion that leveled part of Blenheim hamlet over in Schoharie County back in 1990 or the 2010 leak in a community near Blenheim.

While a larger pipeline does pose some risk to the county, that argument by itself sounds selfish compared to the presumed benefit consumers throughout the region might get from more plentiful gas supplies. But when you include the environmental damage that results from fracking, whether it’s caused by the secret brew of toxic fluids used to extract the gas or the shoddy plumbing on the wells themselves, the pipeline equation begins to shift.

Environmental damage from drilling is a big cost and Kinder Morgan isn’t going to pay for any of it. But Pennsylvanians will. Should we New Yorkers support a project that pollutes the water in our neighbors’ wells so much that you can ignite it with a match?

The country still needs natural gas, and a new pipeline might be necessary to replace one nearing the end of its useful life. But the scope of what Kinder Morgan proposes is far greater than what this region will need… unless you assume that we will never wean ourselves from our perilous reliance on fossil fuels.

Supporting the pipeline proposal as it stands amounts to surrendering our future to the petroleum industry. It accepts the proposition that we bear no responsibility for the changes already apparent in our climate here–that we are helpless to act. But opposing the pipeline in its present form puts the company and the industry on notice that we want change and we want it to start with here and now.

Urge the Town Boards of Canaan, Chatham and New Lebanon to adopt resolutions opposing the Kinder Morgan plan and ask the county Board of Supervisors to adopt a similar resolution prepared by the county Environmental Management Council. And contact the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission at www.ferc.gov, and tell that agency to reject the Kinder Morgan plan.

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