It’s My Turn
Since Sandy hit New York City, no boardwalk, sea wall, jetties or double dunes have been built in the Rockaways. What has been built is the entire National Grid infrastructure necessary for completing Williams Transco’s Rockaway Delivery Lateral Pipeline (Pipeline), a 3.2 mile, 26 inch diameter, high pressure pipeline set to bring gas to and through the Rockaway Peninsula.
The Pipeline will run through Gateway National Park to a metering and regulating station in two landmarked hangars at Floyd Bennett Field. Congress had to pass the New York City Natural Gas Supply Enhancement Act to authorize this construction. The bill passed Congress on November 14, 2012; the President signed it into law on November 27, 2012, when there were still many thousand Rockaway houses without power.
This pipeline is being sold as a way to bring “clean, safe” energy to the Rockways and Brooklyn. But the methane gas – a potent greenhouse gas – isn’t clean or safe, and neither is the pipeline. The pipeline will begin by bringing methane gas drilled from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale through high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Fracking is a process that uses hundreds of toxic chemicals and releases huge quantities of methane into the air. It is currently contaminating the water, air, land, food, and people of Pennsylvania. And, building the pipeline and other infrastructure will put pressure on New York State to begin fracking within its borders.
According to Marvin Resnikoff, Senior Associate, Radioactive Waste Management Associates (Radon in Natural Gas from Marcellus Shale, January 10, 2012), naturally occurring Radium makes all shale gas radioactive at varying levels. Radon, the radioactive gas released in fracking, travels through pipelines with the methane. It has a half-life of 3.8 days and is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. We currently get gas from the Gulf region where the shale has the lowest radiation levels and from which it travels about 1800 miles. Marcellus gas is from 10 to 70 times more radioactive than average; well sites in NY and PA are much closer, starting around 150 miles away, arriving in less than a day, and allowing almost no time for the radon to decay in transit.
Before Williams can build their section of the pipeline, it must be approved by a number of State and Federal agencies. Each agency has jurisdiction over parts of the project. Because the pipeline does not run through any home owner’s or renter’s property, notification requirements are limited. And, based on turnout at meetings and many conversations, it is clear that Williams and all involved agencies have done a remarkably insufficient job.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
(FERC) has responsibility to develop an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the project to assess potential threats to habitat, marine life, and people. The public has the right to comment on the draft EIS (dEIS) and it is critical, especially for affected communities, to do so. The comment period ends on Monday December 9th. An individual may submit one or unlimited on-line or written comments.
Williams first submitted its plan in March, 2009. FERC issued its dEIS on October 4, 2013. After the dEIS was complete, Williams submitted an additional approximately 1000 pages of information – including changing the timing on most of their work from winter to summer – making much of the dEIS potentially obsolete and demonstrating Williams’ willingness to ignore government rules and deadlines.
The Rockaways of 2009 was a very different place than the Rockaways of 2013. Williams has not made any changes to its proposal to address the realities of building infrastructure in post- Sandy Rockaways. In fact, in the dEIS, Williams stated that “the ability to forecast hurricanes several days in advance would allow it to ensure the safety and integrity of its system . . .” However, Williams has a history of violations ranging from failures to follow internal policies and to inspect infrastructure, to explosions. And, inspections are proposed to occur only once every 7 years; nationwide, 7 percent of pipelines are inspected regularly.
A few of the many issues Sandy raised, but Williams failed to address: The pipeline runs down one of the only two evacuation routes for the entire west and central areas of the peninsula. The floor of the metering and regulating station to be built in Floyd Bennett
Field is proposed at 13.9 feet above the ground – with the equipment raised an additional foot. Sandy flooded the area at 14 feet though Williams maintains that the hangars were not breached in that surge. There has been no study to determine if Sandy caused any structural impact to the Rockaway peninsula itself, and the pipeline project entails massive amounts of sand displacement and operating drilling, jetting and other heavy machinery off the coast of Riis
A number of people raised these and other concerns to Community Board 14 at their November 12th, 2013, meeting. In response, the board invited Williams and National Grid to present to the Environmental Committee. No non-industry presenters were invited, nor were any organizations that oppose the pipeline. Instead of addressing most concerns, including those raised by the current post-Sandy Rockaways conditions, the meeting was an opportunity for Williams and National Grid to explain details about their building process without answering hard questions about safety, storm and storm surge mitigation endeavors, or even the increased impacts to the ocean due to summer dredging. Discussions focused on avoidance of damage to an artificial reef off Riis Park Beach, mitigation measures for the reef and in Jamaica Bay, as well as possibilities of Williams funding other projects.
The pipeline will affect the Rockaways for years to come. This article addresses a few of many issues, but the community should get involved, ask questions, demand that at a minimum Williams Transco and National Grid slow down and address the concerns exacerbated by Sandy before moving forward with their plan, require that the company and agency inform and engage the whole Rockaway community in an open and transparent manner, and submit comments to FERC now. The deadline for comments is Monday, December 9th, 2013.
To submit comments, go to ferc.gov/docsfiling/ ecomment.asp (click on the comment box).
For more information, talking points for comments, or to get involved, please visit: carpny.org.
Jessica Roff has been a volunteer relief and rebuilding organizer in Rockaway since the Thursday after Sandy; she is a fourth generation Brooklynite.