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Issue: Natural Gas Pipelines

When a natural gas pipeline is proposed, it digs up an ongoing controversy between environmentalists and pipeline advocacy agencies.

“We’re trying to make the transportation route shorter, more efficient for everyone,” said Cathy Landry, communications director for The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America. The group is a main supporter of pipelines for natural gas.

But the opponents argue that the pipelines do more damage than good. They call for landowners to force companies to take more responsibility.  Research done by Citizen Action of New York and partnering attorneys suggests  landowners best option is to force a pipeline company to take their land by eminent domain – the government’s power to take land.

“Otherwise they could be responsible for any mistakes the company makes,” Isaac Siblerman-Gorn from Citizen Action said.

Before the Marcellus and Utica ‘Shale Gas Revolution,’ natural gas had to travel north from the Gulf of Mexico to get to New York, New England and the Mid-Atlantic. Because gas is now available in these other places, interstate natural gas transmission pipeline companies are pushing for smaller more discrete pipelines so gas doesn’t have to travel as far.

Natural Gas Association spokesperson Landry says pipeline companies are working hard to make deals with private landowners during this expansive pipeline push. “We want them to feel comfortable with having a pipeline in their area,” said Landry. “People recognize that eminent domain exists and want to negotiate.”

Eminent domain is the government’s power to take private property for public use by a state, municipality, or corporation that the government considers to be a benefit to the public.  The owner is paid, even if the owner did not want to sell.

Among the issues that supporters and opponents of pipelines highlight:

  • The Environment

Pipeline leaks are at the top of environmentalists’ concerns. Environmental groups are concerned about what a leak might do to water resources, ecosystems and wildlife. Robert Wilson is a geography professor at Syracuse University and has petitioned against pipelines. “Farmers and ranchers have fought the pipelines because of concerns with ruptures,” he said.

Regulators of pipelines say pipeline safety is their main priority and that they are always looking to improve. “We monitor the infrastructure’s maintenance, its testing,” said Damon Hill, a spokesperson from the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. “We also inspect pipelines and assess safety risks that could be associated with companies’ systems.”

  • Public Health

Activists argue that the compressor stations associated with pipelines can pose real health risks to communities. Wes Gillingham is a member of Catskill Mountainkeepers and argues some health issues – such as nosebleeds and shortness of breath –have been observed from air pollution and loose volatile compounds in the air. “These clusters of health problems have yet to be recognized by authorities,” he said.

Cathy Landry, the communications director for the interstate gas association, says working with landowners and citizens is important so that they understand what pipelines do and why they’re important. “We’re working diligently with communities so they get a clear understanding of our safety record.”

  • Job Creation

The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America oversees the installation and construction of all interstate pipelines. Landry says there is a real potential for job-creation. “Areas where there is natural gas and oil production in the U.S. have much less unemployment than elsewhere,” she said. “Pipelines make the Shale Gas Revolution possible and all sorts of over economic effects possible.”

But those who oppose putting in pipelines are concerned that these jobs will open up the door to another controversial energy source: hydro-fracking, the high-pressure flushing of natural gas from shale.

“If you’re going to drill a well to frack, you have to have the infrastructure in place to get that gas wherever it’s going,” said Isaac Siblerman-Gorn from Citizen Action of New York.
(Hannah McDonald is a senior majoring in broadcast and digital journalism, with a minor in economics.)

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Posted in Spring 2014 | Comments Off on Issue: Natural Gas Pipelines