“Deceitful and kind of bullying”: That’s how Rosendale Town Board member Jen Metzger characterized recent attempts by representatives of Pilgrim Pipeline Holdings, LLC to browbeat landowners into permitting the company to survey their properties nearby the proposed route of the bidirectional pipelines that it hopes to build along the New York State Thruway corridor. Speaking at a public forum on the pipeline project held on Monday, November 17 at the Lecture Center on the SUNY New Paltz campus, Metzger, in her capacity as an organizer for the group Citizens for Local Power, said that complaints from Rosendale residents about threatening letters from the energy company were the spark that ignited that town’s decision the previous week to pass New York State’s first municipal resolution opposing construction of the pipeline.
New Paltz quickly followed suit, passing a nearly identical resolution of opposition at its November 19 Town Board meeting. “I also got a call from someone who was contacted by the company,” said town supervisor Susan Zimet during the question-and-answer segment at the end of the public forum. “The way they approach you, the way they lie to you is a real concern to me…. We have to take a real aggressive stand on this.”
Back in July, said Metzger, “We heard from a very upset resident who got a letter from Pilgrim Pipeline, written in such a way as to suggest that residents didn’t have a choice” about allowing the company’s surveyors to trespass on their properties. “Those who refused access got threatened with legal action.” In response to an audience member asking, “What do we do if Pilgrim comes knocking on our door?” Phillip Musegaas of Riverkeeper, one of the forum speakers, said, “‘Just say no’ is exactly the right answer. You don’t have to give them access to your property. You have the power to prevent that…. They don’t have a right to survey, and they don’t have a right to eminent domain.”
Current maps of the proposed 178-mile pipeline, which the company hopes to build primarily along the Thruway right-of-way, show it veering slightly away and passing through private property in a number of places along its route. It’s the owners of these properties who are being aggressively approached. One of the dual pipelines is planned to carry Bakken crude oil from Albany, where it arrives by rail from the North Dakota shale oil fields, down to the Phillips 66 Bayway refinery in Linden, New Jersey, while the other is to transport refined products like propane back in the opposite direction. In Ulster County, the line would pass through the towns of Saugerties, Ulster, Kingston, Rosendale, Esopus, New Paltz, Lloyd and Plattekill.
According to Musegaas, light sweet Bakken crude is “very flammable, very unstable and dangerous” because it is a hydrofracking product containing high concentrations of natural gas. It is the same product that caused the catastrophic explosion that leveled much of downtown Lac-Mégantic, Quebec in a July 2013 train derailment, killing 47 people. Pipeline opponents cite the danger of explosions — especially at the pump stations that must be built, according to Nadia Steinzor of Earth Action, at 40-to-50-mile intervals along the route to keep the oil flowing — as a compelling reason not to want the pipeline to pass through one’s community. Metzger quoted industry statistics documenting 1,880 crude oil spills totaling more than 44 million gallons from pipelines nationwide between 2003 and 2013, causing about $2.5 billion dollars in property damage. “Eighty percent of pipeline incidents are caused by equipment or human failure,” she said. The Pilgrim Pipeline, according to Musegaas, “would certainly pose a huge risk to the environment and public safety.”
Metzger argued that many of the company’s rationales for the need to build the pipeline are false or misleading, citing statistics to refute the claim that pipelines are safer than rail transport. She also said that the pattern of fossil fuel transport lines planned for the Hudson Valley is ultimately designed to serve a burgeoning export market, rather than to alleviate US dependency on foreign oil. “The path to real resilience is not more reliance on fossil fuels, but less.” Kim Fraczek of the Sane Energy Project backed up that claim with maps and charts of the entire state in her PowerPoint presentation, showing the flow of crude oil and natural gas — including fracked gas from the Marcellus shale — as trending toward seaports and shipping terminals rather than domestic markets.
Governmental oversight of interstate pipelines is handled on a piecemeal basis by many agencies, according to Musegaas, and Steinzor said that legislation like the Clean Air Act is riddled with loopholes and exemptions for the oil and gas industry, treating each component of a major system like a pipeline as a separate, lightly regulated “minor source.” Nevertheless, the forum organizers expressed hope that the Pilgrim Pipeline can still be stopped by timely citizen action. “The company plans to start the permitting process in December,” noted Metzger. “The first phase is scoping. Now’s the time to raise questions,” said Clearwater’s Manna Jo Greene, who moderated the discussion.
Musegaas was somewhat skeptical of the power of local resolutions or zoning codes to keep a pipeline out of a town: “If it’s an Interstate Commerce Claus project like this, a local government can’t burden it unless there’s a very compelling local concern.” Noting that the New York State Thruway Authority is “historically very resistant to giving access to its right-of-way,” he said, “Everything I’ve heard suggests that they’re unlikely to get it. The company may have given up on that path…. The key at this early stage is for local landowners to refuse access, refuse right-of-way. That will make this very difficult to go forward.”
To view maps of the proposed route for the Pilgrim Pipeline, visit https://tinyurl.com/pilgrimmaps.