Risks from the Spectra Pipeline

1. The pipeline is a direct threat to the public health, safety, property values and economy of eastern New Jersey and New York City, especially to the residents, businesses, galleries, schools, religious and cultural institutions of downtown Manhattan, Staten Island, and Jersey City.

radius arrow smShould the pipeline or vault explode on the Manhattan side of the Hudson, the potential radius of damage would encompass three historic districts, including: 10 irreplaceable Landmarked buildings; 10 schools or daycare centers; 8 playgrounds, including a large playground on the pier directly adjacent to the Sanitation Pier (the entry point of the pipeline); 13 churches or religious institutions; more than 28 art and cultural centers; the Hudson River Greenway, shoreline and West Side Highway; more than 38 restaurants; countless boutiques, hotels, businesses and residences.

The underground vault where Spectra’s pipes connect to Con Ed’s pipes is sited adjacent to the basement of the Whitney Museum Downtown, home to irreplaceable art. It runs parallel to the popular High Line elevated park, which attracts 2 million annual visitors and has been credited with bringing $2 billion in private investment, 12,000 new jobs, and nearly 29 major new developments to New York’s economy.

The pipeline’s metering and reading stations in NJ emit airborne toxins, which waft over downtown Manhattan, Staten Island, and Brooklyn. LUGs (Lost Unaccounted Gas) are estimated at an average of 3 to 9% with as much as 12 to 20% to be lost on the western side of the Hudson River. In addition, according to Professor James W. Ring, Professor of Physics Emeritus at Hamilton College, radon released at drill sites in the Marcellus has the potential to be carried with the gas to point of use at stoves and boilers in residences, putting citizens throughout the five boroughs and elsewhere at increased risk of lung cancer.

2. The pipeline is a larger threat to the public health, safety, property values and economy of all regions of the Marcellus shale, including upstate New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and other areas, due to the inevitability that it will increase the demand for hydrofracturing.

The pipeline does not bring “clean” energy to New York City or other regions. As stated in the pipeline application, this pipeline brings fracked Marcellus shale gas to market. This encourages further production in gas fields upwind and upstream from the densely populated metro area, with ruinous impact on air and water quality for populations in both rural and metro areas. Air pollution from gas field and pipeline emissions can travel up to 200 miles and will more than negate the purported “clean-burning” advantage of gas, particularly if the path through the port areas of Bayonne results in the construction of a continually off-gassing LNG export terminal. Local and global climate will suffer, as evidenced by the Howarth Cornell study, published April 2011, that documents methane as a much more potent emitter of greenhouse gases than even coal or oil, especially when viewed over a 20-year cycle.

map_NJ-Nmap marcellus gas to NYC via spectra

3. There is a history of safety issues with the builder of this pipeline.

In June, 2011, DOT Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) inspectors cited Spectra Energy for 17 inadequacies in its pipeline safety operations and procedures, including problems with pipeline surveillance, emergency plans, and welding procedures.

• Texas Eastern, the subsidiary of Spectra Energy that proposes to build the NJ-NY Expansion Project, received the EPA’s seventh highest Federal Penalty Assessment on record (nearly $25 million adjusted for inflation to 2009 numbers), for PCB contamination.

• Spectra Energy’s underground gas storage reservoir in Moss Bluff, TX experienced catastrophic failure in 2004 with two explosions, spewing flames as high as 1,000 feet. An estimated 6 bcf of natural gas was consumed during the fire, which lasted nearly one week.

• On August 23, 2009, Spectra Energy’s Steckman Ridge, PA, natural gas compressor station experienced an “emergency shutdown,” releasing 1,629 pounds of lubricating oil and 6,460 pounds of methane (including 1,151 pounds of volatile organic compounds), coating a fertile agricultural, fishing and hunting region with potentially toxic industrial gear oil. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued two Notices of Violation. Nearby landowners reported to FERC a total of 43 additional shutdowns and/or blowdowns at the same compressor station between August 2009 and June 2011.

• According to The Vancouver Sun, Spectra Energy’s Pine River natural gas processing plant is the top polluter in British Columbia, discharging 1.2 million tonnes of greenhouse gas pollutants. The company’s Fort Nelson gas plant was ranked the #3 polluter in BC.

4. Pipeline regulation and oversight in America is sorely inadequate.

• Spectra is excluded from regulations of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.

• Fear of an explosion from this 30” high pressure pipeline is well placed. Nationwide, pipeline accidents result in, on average, a death every week, and injuries or burns approximately every other day.

• Before 2002, there was no federal regulation of pipelines. Nationwide, there are roughly 2.5 million miles of pipeline; of these, PHMSA has jurisdiction over just 174,000 miles of interstate lines. Just 7% of pipelines are subject to mandatory inspection. For the NJ-NY project, inspection is proposed only once every 7 years.

• There are only 88 auditors nationwide, who primarily review industry-supplied reports and do occasional field inspections. PHMSA reports 800-900 annual field inspections, or roughly just 10 per inspector.

• A senate bill calling for 40 additional inspectors and doubling the maximum fine, introduced after the San Bruno explosion, died in session. Tighter regulations are unlikely to pass under the current Congress.

• The principal means of detecting leaks is to search for desiccated grass and trees along the route, a method with obvious drawbacks in the underwater and paved urban areas this pipeline would traverse.

• “Pigs,” an inspection tool used to examine the interior of a pipeline, are limited by the diameter of the pipeline; when the diameter of a pipeline varies, as with the NJ-NY Expansion Project, the entire length of a pipeline cannot be examined by a pig.

Steel pipes, such as the type used for the NJ-NY Expansion Project, corrode from moisture. When a pipeline loses thickness from corrosion, it is often “derated,” meaning that instead of replacing the damaged section, the pressure is lowered. The pressure had been lowered in the pipeline which blew up in San Bruno, CA, but a bad weld in the steel pipe could not withstand even that pressure. The explosion killed 8 and leveled 38 homes.

5. The pipeline is an unnecessary infrastructure expense.

• The claim of increased local demand and stable pricing is a false premise. According to the NYS Energy Plan of 2009, “80% of New York State’s projected 5% gas demand growth [i.e., 4%] by 2020 will be in NYC and LI.” However, according to the same data, that baseline is 2007, and after 2010 demand is actually projected downward and then flat until 2020.

state demand chart

• This pipeline will extend the existing network of pipelines and proposed export facilities that will enable energy conglomerates to seek the highest global bidder. The result will be that our region will be more, not less, dependent on volatile supplies and prices, competing for gas with emerging markets in Latin America, Asia and elsewhere.

6. It’s the wrong direction when we should be building renewable infrastructure.

SA coverBuilding new gas infrastructure wrongly invests in dirty fossil fuel when the United States should ramp up investment in clean sustainable energy infrastructure instead. For all the danger, cost, and environmental destruction of extraction and transport, the supply will be short-lived, with recent studies projecting only 20% of earlier reserves. According to the peer reviewed 2010 Stanford University study, using technologies already available, the world can run solely on renewable energy by 2030. With this in mind, it is a poor investment to shackle ourselves to polluting methane. New Jersey and New York City can lead the nation by choosing sustainable energy and conservation instead of this pipeline.

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2 Responses to Risks from the Spectra Pipeline

  1. ella jolly says:

    What an excellent overview, Clare. This just lays it right out there. Thanks for posting.

  2. Pingback: The Spectra Pipeline |

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