Within One Week, Plans For Two Major Proposed Natural Gas Pipelines Are Scrapped

A man carries a sign before a rally opposing the Constitution Pipeline outside the state Capitol on Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Albany, N.Y. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MIKE GROLL
A man carries a sign before a rally opposing the Constitution Pipeline outside the state Capitol on Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Albany, N.Y. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MIKE GROLL

It’s been a good week for anti-pipeline activists in the Northeast.

Plans for two proposed natural gas pipelines have been scrapped within the last week — but not for the same reasons. On Wednesday, energy company Kinder Morgan halted operations on its Northeast Energy Direct pipeline, which would have carried natural gas from northeastern Pennsylvania into Massachusetts. Kinder Morgan said it wasn’t able to secure the commitments from energy customers it needed to justify building the pipeline, and said that low energy prices made it difficult for natural gas producers to commit to the pipeline.

Then, on Friday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration rejected water quality permits needed to construct the Constitution Pipeline, effectively killing the project, which would have brought natural gas 124 miles from Pennsylvania to New York. New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation said in its decision to reject the permits that the pipeline would have impacted about 250 streams, “including trout spawning streams, old-growth forest, and undisturbed springs.”

The DEC also said it had gotten reports that landowners had clearcut old-growth forests along the pipeline’s proposed route — something that went against FERC rules for the pipeline. The agency wrote that the pipeline’s water quality application “fails in a meaningful way to address the significant water resource impacts that could occur from this Project and has failed to provide sufficient information to demonstrate compliance with New York State water quality standards.”

Anti-pipeline activists and landowners along the proposed Constitution Pipeline’s route praised the decision Friday.

“Just a year after his monumental decision to ban fracking statewide, Cuomo has clearly embraced the urgings of thousands of grassroots activists: Clean, renewable energy is the only responsible path forward for New York,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, in a statement. “This latest act by the governor against fracked gas infrastructure sets a bold example for all public officials in America: Environmental leaders don’t frack, and they don’t tolerate new fracking infrastructure either.”

The Explosive Debate Over A New Natural Gas Pipeline Through The Northeastshutterstock by New York resident Bruce Shenker didn’t used to be concerned about the three underground natural gas…thinkprogress.orgBoth these pipelines had faced significant opposition in the states they would have affected. Multiple residents and organizations had over the last few years sent letters to former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick — who left office in 2015 — expressing their concern over Northeast Energy Direct. Residents in the path of the pipeline were worried about its potential to explode — natural gas pipelines typically have fewer incidents than oil pipelines do, but their incidents are often more likely to result in death or hospitalization than an oil pipeline’s. Natural gas pipeline explosions occur most often when a pipeline ruptures, due to stress from corrosion or from being struck by nearby digging.

“On the benefits side, I found zero benefits,” New York resident Bruce Shenker told ThinkProgress of the pipeline in 2014. Shenker was one of multiple residents who refused to allow pipeline contractors onto his land to survey for the proposed line. “Basically, they’re just passing through my land, and they’ll give me a little bit of money, and that’s it. There are no benefits and a lot of risk.”

The fight over these pipelines may not be over completely — Williams, the Constitution pipeline’s developer, told Politico that it is still analyzing the decision but will consider appealing it. But environmental groups see the demise of the two pipelines — especially in the same week as Earth Day and the signing of the Paris agreement — as a major step in the right direction for the climate. Natural gas emits less carbon dioxide than coal does when it’s burned, but the venting, flaring, and leaking of methane during the natural gas extraction and development process erase its climate benefits.

“Governor Cuomo’s rejection of the Constitution Pipeline represents a turning of the tide, where states across the nation that have been pressured into accepting harmful gas infrastructure projects by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) may now feel emboldened to push back,” said Roger Downs, conservation director for the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, in a statement. “Cuomo’s leadership could inspire a domino effect of related pipeline rejections as other states begin to put the protection of water and our climate before flawed energy projects that do not serve the public interest.”