Group asks town to oppose bigger pipes
CHATHAM – Three Chatham Town Board Members and about 30 audience members listened to presentation from a group called Stop NY Fracked Gas Pipeline at a special workshop meeting last Thursday. The group wants to Town Board to pass a resolution saying that for environmental, financial and safety reasons the town opposes a new pipeline Kinder Morgan/Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company plans to run beneath 17 properties in Chatham.
Board members said they would not vote on the resolution at the September 4 meeting since it was a workshop and one board member and the Town Supervisor were not there. But Board Member Bob Balcom said after the group’s presentation, “I’ll tell you very frankly, I am against any expansion of the Tennessee Pipeline.”
Board member Jean Rohde said she needed more information, and board member Maria Lull did not comment on the pipeline, which would carry natural gas through the county and into Massachusetts.
There are already three pipelines going through the town, which were built decades ago, and there is a compressor station in Malden Bridge. This new pipeline would carry gas obtained through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The group presenting to the board said that the new pipeline will be high pressure and will be move at least three times the amount of gas that gets moved through any one of the other pipelines.
Becky Meier, who led the board through a the PowerPoint presentation, talked about the safety concerns associated with the pipelines, saying that in rural areas like Chatham, emergency shutoff valves can be 10-12 miles apart and that the company is not required to add “odorants” to alert the public that the highly flammable, odorless methane gas is leaking.
“How would we know if it’s leaking?” she said.
No one from Kinder Morgan was at the meeting, but The Columbia Paper reached Richard Wheatley, director of corporate communications for Kinder Morgan in Houston, who responded by email to some of the questions that pipeline critics raised during the meeting.
Asked about Ms. Meier’s concern as it pertains to Chatham and the rest of Columbia County, Mr. Wheatley wrote, “The gas will be odorized in this section of the pipeline.”
The pipeline opponents also said that property owners pay taxes on the land above the pipeline, though the company as an easement to construct and maintain the pipes. Kinder Morgan does pay the owners when the company installs the pipes, though the group stresses that the presence of a gas pipeline reduces property values. And opponents said the company as the right to abandon the pipes when the pipelines are no longer in use.
Mr. Wheatley said that many of the questions raised by the pipeline opponents were addressed in the Frequently Asked Questions section of the company’s website, which emphasizes safety as a major Kinder Morgan concern. On the matter of assessments the site says, “The pipeline and associated easement should not impact the value of your property,” adding, “Multiple studies across the country have found minimal to no correlation between a property’s sales price and its vicinity to a gas transmission pipeline.”
The web address is www.kindermorgan.com/business/gas_pipelines/east/neenergydirect.
At the Chatham workshop, Mr. Balcom told the crowd after the presentation that he would not want to put the local volunteer firefighters in the area in harm’s way if there was an explosion in one of these pipelines. He said of a fire caused by a pipeline leak, “There is not enough a foam on the planet to put it out.”
He also pointed out the existing pipes are getting old. According to one slide in the group’s presentation, a federal Department of Transportation report on pipelines said that there have been 990 “significant issues” with gas transmission lines since 2000.
The Kinder Morgan website says that the pipes will be thicker in “more populated areas.” Presumably, that would make them sturdier and less likely to leak. Asked whether Chatham and the rest Columbia County would qualify as more populated areas, Mr. Wheatley said in his email, “Yes, subject to determination of actual population density adjacent to the pipe, as specified by the Department of Transportation Code.”
“I don’t know how I can vote until I talk to my constituents,” Ms. Rohde said. She also wants to look into the group’s claims that adding the pipeline on the local properties would reduce property values and possibly increase homeowner insurance costs.
Kinder Morgan sent a letter to board members last January saying the company plans to build the new pipeline as the Northeast Energy Direct Project. Representatives of Kinder Morgan have not met with the board. Mr. Balcom and Ms. Rohde said that Supervisor Jesse DeGroodt had reached out to the company about attending a meeting.
The next step for Kinder Morgan is to file its plan with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which the group believes the company will do this month. After the filing the public has 21 days to respond to FERC with concerns about with the project. Stop NY Fracked Gas Pipeline is hoping that the town will adopt the resolution opposing the new pipeline before the company files its request, but will also use that 21 days to register complaints.
“No upcoming informational meeting slated yet for your area.” Mr. Wheatley said in his email.
The next regular town board meeting is Thursday, September 18 at 7 p.m. in the town hall.
To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email .