In 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.
The crowded and chaotic atmosphere of the hearing was heightened by what has now become a commonplace scene: Union members shipped in wearing company-provided gear and clamoring that jobs are at stake. Unlike residents who called FERC to check, they seemed confident that a hearing was being held that night.
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.
If 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.
The number of attendees, including many seniors, far exceeded the fire code maximum. Amplification was not provided, and the audience was largely unable to hear speakers. Photo courtesy of Bill Huston.
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: