Opinion: Oppose Pilgrim Pipeline

The Thruway, whose right-of-way the pipeline company is counting on (photo by Will Dendis)

The Thruway, whose right-of-way the pipeline company is counting on (photo by Will Dendis)

By now readers of this paper should be aware that Pilgrim Pipeline Holdings, LLC would like to build a 178-mile pipeline along the Thruway to carry crude oil from Albany to refineries in New Jersey and refined petroleum products in the other direction. We can’t let this happen.

Many residents of towns along this route are involved in active opposition. A regional group has been formed, the Coalition Against the Pilgrim Pipeline (CAPP), with smaller local groups coordinating informational events in their towns.


The problem with the most local relevance is leaks. Pipeline spills are more frequent than train and barge spills, according to Citizens for Local Power. These spills can have devastating effects on people and property. Municipalities along the pipeline route are unlikely to have the resources to clean up the mess quickly. The Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has only 135 inspectors to oversee 2.6 million miles of pipeline nationally. How safe does should that make us feel?

The Saugerties subgroup of CAPP, which has about 10 members, points out that the proposed pipeline deserves extra scrutiny because of the volatile Bakken crude oil it will be carrying, fracked from shale deposits in North Dakota — the same type that exploded following a 2013 train crash in Quebec that killed 47 people and leveled a town. The pipeline would also include compressor stations that emit toxic air pollutants.

Read an opinion piece written by Pilgrim Pipeline defending the safety of modern pipelines.

Property owners are on the front lines. The plan calls for most of the pipeline to be built on the Thruway right-of-way. But some part of it will have to be built on private property. The company is already in Saugerties, reportedly making dubious claims to owners of property adjacent to the Thruway in order to gain access. For example, landowners have been told that Pilgrim is asking their permission as a courtesy only, as the company will be able to use eminent domain to access their property if they withhold permission. This is not true. Property owners should know that they can sign letters that deny access, even if they’ve previously allowed the company on their land.


Speakers at the public meeting


A  community forum sponsored by CAPP Saugerties and held at the Senior Citizens Center on Jan. 10 addressed these issues and more. At least 100 people, mostly Saugerties residents, turned out on Saturday afternoon to hear Jen Metzger of Citizens for Local Power, Kate Hudson of Riverkeeper and Kathy Nolan of Catskill Mountain Keeper address the dangers of pipeline transport as well as the legal status of this pipeline.

Metzger said there were 1,880 crude oil pipeline spills between 2003-2013, totaling 44 million gallons. She said the pipeline wouldn’t decrease the amount of oil already moving by rail.

Hudson focused her remarks on Pilgrim Pipelines LLC’s status as a private company, not a public utility, which makes obtaining right-of-way more difficult. Pilgrim needs permits from federal, state and local authorities to proceed on public lands. Twenty-four towns and counties in New Jersey as well as the New Jersey State Assembly have passed resolutions opposing such permits, and in the Hudson Valley, Rosendale, Kingston, New Paltz (town and village), Rhinebeck, Marbletown, Ulster, and Woodstock have passed similar resolutions, along with Ulster County. These resolutions can make a difference.

Nolan said her organization will turn its attention from fracking, now that it’s been banned in New York, to the pipeline issue, conducting the same kinds of studies on the effects on the environment and public health, including contamination of drinking water, soil and air. She said alternative sources of energy are available and need to be developed.

Jonathan Ridgeway of CAPP explained that landowners should be concerned about property values. There may also be negative consequences for their home insurance. He also suggested that the pipeline is being pursued in anticipation of the lifting of the country’s crude oil export ban, which would mean big profits. He said the project has no benefits for those of us who live along its proposed route, only risks.

The issue goes beyond the land where the pipeline would be built. Given the reality of climate change and the terrible costs — both environmental and economic — of getting oil out of the ground in the United States, we have to consider where our resources should be directed. Finding new ways of transporting the oil that can only exacerbate and accelerate climate change seems to be a backward-looking — not to mention destructive — effort, particularly when so many new technologies are ready and waiting for development.

Climate scientists have said that extracting all the oil from the Canadian tar sands and America’s shale deposits would be “game over” for civilization as we have know it, because it would push climate change past the point of no return. As a recent study in Nature magazine made clear, “leave it in the ground” is the only sensible policy to take for this hard-to-get-at oil.

So what are we supposed to do for energy if we oppose further expansion of the fossil fuel infrastructure? To start with, we should reduce our energy use and throw our resources behind supporting alternative technologies here at home and in other countries. We can start by not spending vast sums of money building 20th-century infrastructure, like pipelines, that will only allow us to consume and pollute even more than we already do. We should also develop local sources of energy through community choice aggregation (CCA), which allows local governments to aggregate electricity demand in order to obtain electricity derived from alternative energy supplies while using the existing electricity provider for distribution and transmission.

The resolutions passed by the municipalities urge Gov. Cuomo and the DEC to oppose the pipeline and the Thruway Authority to deny Pilgrim right-of-way. Saugerties should be among these towns. We should request that the Town Board take the issue up without delay. A petition was signed by 75 residents at the Saturday meeting. As the project is still in a pre-approval stage, public opposition can have a big impact on decision-makers and may well discourage Pilgrim from moving forward. As oil prices drop, the investors funding Pilgrim may not be interested in the kind of long process an opposed public could impose.

CAPP/Saugerties organizers plan to address the Town Board Jan. 21. Saugerties residents who would like to get involved are invited to arrive at the Senior Center at 6 p.m., an hour ahead of the board meeting, to discuss the issue and what we can do.

Read an opinion piece from Pilgrim Pipeline written to rebut this column.