Opinion: Pilgrim Pipeline needs to come clean

pipeline-sqIn a letter to the editor of this paper, George Bochis, vice president of development for Pilgrim Pipeline Holdings LLC, recently tried to dismiss the concerns of New Yorkers who are questioning the need for a new oil pipeline. Bochis failed to provide sources of information to back up his claims. This has been a systematic pattern in Pilgrim’s printed statements and in their presentations to the public. The facts show a picture of a project that deserves serious concern and action on the part of citizens and officials to block the plan.

Read previous articles and opinion pieces on the proposed pipeline. 

Bochis cites the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and the long lines at gas station pumps as a reason to consider the project. It is a fact that there was a supply shortage of petroleum products in the days following Sandy. However, the lines at the pump were not caused by the barges Bochis claims a pipeline would replace. Bayway Refinery was shut down due to flooding. The Colonial pipeline that runs from NJ to the Gulf of Mexico lost power and had to be shut down after the storm. A Fortune magazine article that made these points noted, “Pipelines . . . just aren’t that great in an emergency.” The gas shortage was further exacerbated by stations with no power to work their pumps and the inability to get tankers to all locations due to roads blocked by downed trees and power lines.


Now, let’s examine another George Bochis opinion, that a pipeline is “an efficient, modern and safe fuel delivery system that will provide the region with a safer and more environmentally sound alternative” to river barges. Nobody can dispute that pipelines are a more efficient way to transport fuel when efficiency is defined by cost. However, Bochis’s claims about safety and environmental soundness deserve deeper examination.

A Feb. 2012 report by the Congressional Research Service showed that pipelines spilled more barrels of oil per billion-ton-miles than barges and rail combined. Karen Gentile of the Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said at an informational presentation in Montville on Feb. 18 that “pipeline incidents are low in frequency, but they do happen and consequences are severe.” Even if pipeline spills are deemed a low frequency event, the large volume of oil spilled per event means that pipelines are hardly an environmentally sound alternative. The fact that preliminary maps show the pipeline sited mere feet from schools, playgrounds, and backyards makes the risk of a spill unacceptable.

The claim about creating 50 jobs is also suspect. Even to an amateur labor economist like myself, that number seems questionable when you consider that the US State Department estimated that the 875mi Keystone XL pipeline will only create 35 permanent jobs. General manager of the Port of Albany Rich Hendrick would not doubt dispute the number. In a June 2014 article that appeared in the Albany Business Review, Hendrick stated that Pilgrim Pipeline could cause a net job loss for the New York State Capital Region because reduced barge traffic could result in “less work and fewer jobs” for workers at the Port. Hendrick further said, “It takes about seven workers to secure a barge to a dock and unload it. The number is similar for unloading by rail. A pipeline would require one or two workers to control the valves and transportation of oil to a holding tank.” Using that same logic, Pilgrim Pipeline’s construction could mean the loss of maritime jobs on the NJ side of the border as well. If you “create” jobs in one place, but lose them in another, is there a substantial net benefit?

Back in October, George Bochis claimed at a town hall meeting in Kinnelon, NJ that his “pipeline wouldn’t spill.” In his editorial letter, Bochis also touts the pipeline industry improvements of the 21st century as compared to Eisenhower-era pipelines. This sentiment is another example of a partial truth. Yes, pipeline technology has improved drastically, and yes the risk of spill on newer pipelines is lower than “Eisenhower-era” pipelines. However, that same Congressional Research Service study referenced earlier also shows that in the time from 1990–today, technology has helped to produce the safest trains cars and barges in history. George Bochis should concede that no pipeline, even his, is perfect. Even with the best technology, and the strongest steel, and the best mitigation practices, nobody could ever guarantee 100 percent that a pipeline is risk free from spills.

The bottom line is that it really is time that we, the public, got some facts from Pilgrim. We deserve to see an official preliminary route map and alternative routes. We deserve to know how many permanent jobs will truly be created on both sides of the New Jersey/New York border. We deserve to know what safety measures are in place for remediation in the event of a spill. If the public is really to be swayed by “factual merit,” the burden of proof should be whether or not we absolutely have to build a permanent piece of infrastructure to transport crude from the Bakken shale, a temporary energy source. We have a scalable infrastructure in place today, and by most accounts it will be sufficient for our needs over the next couple of decades.

We need to shift our focus to how to best transition to the post fossil fuel-era 20-40 years down the road. If we really want to create good American jobs, we should take the lead from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and focus on training the next generation with the skills they need to get jobs in the green economy. Fossil fuels may not be going away any time soon, but that doesn’t mean we should sell our souls for temporary construction jobs. I for one would rather be hopeful. I say we should reach for the stars. As a member of the millennial generation, I strongly urge our leaders to help us build a bridge to the future, not a pipeline to our past.

Brendan L. Keating

Chair, Executive Committee of Chatham Citizens Opposing the Oil Pipeline

New Jersey