The potential health and safety risks posed by the proposed Pilgrim Pipeline, which would carry volatile Bakken crude oil from Albany to a refinery in New Jersey and a variety of petroleum products back the other way, were highlighted by a rally May 18 at the Ulster County Courthouse.
County Executive Mike Hein, speaking at the rally which drew an estimated 80, characterized the proposed pipeline as “bad public policy in which the county gets all the danger and no benefit…the reality is an over-reliance on fossil fuel is not good public policy.”
“There’s no economic benefit for the county from the building of the pipeline,” said Ulster County Legislator Carl Belfiglio. Town of Rochester supervisor Carl Chipman, who chairs the Ulster County Association of Town Supervisors, said “it’s anathema that a multinational corporation wants to tell us what to do with our property. We’re standing with our neighbors … [the company] is just taking money from us. Let’s move to a sustainable energy future.”
So far, Ulster County and 13 Mid-Hudson municipalities, including Kingston, Esopus, Woodstock, Rosendale and New Paltz, have adopted resolutions opposing the pipeline, in addition to 35 such resolutions passed in New Jersey. The 178-mile pipeline, which consists of two conduits, one transporting Bakken crude from Albany to New Jersey and the other sending gasoline, kerosene and other refined oil products back up to Albany, would be built along the Thruway right of way south to I-287, where it would head east to the Phillips 66 Bayway refinery in Linden, N.J., the largest on the East Coast.
Iris Marie Bloom, a High Falls resident and member of the Coalition to Stop the Pilgrim Pipeline, which sponsored the rally, said the pipeline poses “risks to health, the climate, water, our communities and democracy.” She noted that Connecticut-based Pilgrim Pipeline Holdings is headed by two oilmen who formerly worked as leading executives for Koch Industries, the Wichita-based conglomerate owned by brothers Edward and Charles Koch. Both give millions to conservative candidates nationwide and both are avid supporters of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
Bloom said 400,000 barrels of crude oil and gasoline would be transported through the double-barreled pipeline each day. It would be drilled under the Rondout, Wallkill, Esopus, Ramapo creeks and other waterways in New York and New Jersey, putting drinking water aquifers at risk, argued Bloom.
Pumping stations would emit benzene and other carcinogens, said coalition activists. “Pipelines leak gases into the air, and they can spill contaminates into the soil and water,” said speaker Kathleen Nolan of Catskill Mountainkeeper. “I believe our communities can stop the pipeline and use that as a model for stopping other forms of [crude oil] transport. We need to more toward renewables and keep carbon sequestered in the ground.”
Not a partisan thing
Jen Metzger of Citizens for Local Power, who also serves on the Rosendale town board, said opposition to the pipeline by municipalities had “overwhelming bipartisan support. This is not a party issue, but a people issue. We gain nothing and only incur the risk. The company’s lobbyists say the pipeline is safer than transporting crude by barge or rail, but it is a statistical fact that pipelines spill more crude oil per ton mile than any other mode of transport. Government oversight of pipelines in the U.S. is notoriously underfunded and understaffed.”
Furthermore, “the bomb trains [a term used to describe trains carrying Bakken crude which have been involved in several recent derailments] won’t stop if the pipeline is built. Even the company does not claim there would be one oil train less if their pipelines were to be built,” said Bloom.
Metzger said the region is committed to a more sustainable energy future. “Our communities are already on the path of reducing the use of fossil fuels. The utilities are in crisis. Their revenue base is shrinking because we’re more energy efficient and using more renewables.” She referred to Kingston’s new Solarize campaign, which is making it easier for homeowners to invest in solar, and the proposal by Citizens for Local Power to launch a demonstration project for community choice aggregation, in which communities would source and possibly produce locally their electricity from renewable sources. (Hein noted that the county is now sourcing all of its electricity from renewable sources for the buildings it owns.)
Metzger noted that last January, oil that spilled into the Yellowstone River from a pipeline drilled 13 feet below the riverbed but was fully exposed demonstrates the unsafe conditions of pipelines. Nolan said lack of monitoring of pipelines out West had led to massive spills since it could be days before a leak was detected.
It’s unclear which entity would grant Pilgrim Pipeline a permit, since no government agency has oversight of crude oil pipelines (the New York State Public Service Commission and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regulate natural gas pipelines, but not ones for crude oil). Metzger said the project most definitely would have to undergo a State Environmental Quality Review Assessment, given that the pipeline would be drilled under 20 state-regulated wetlands and countless federally regulated ones. Plus, the New York Thruway Authority would have to sign off on the project, although current law does not allow other “longitudinal uses” other than telecommunications, she said.
The lack of state or federal jurisdiction for permitting the pipeline means “communities may have the power to stop it because the company might need local permits,” said Nolan. The pipeline would pass through the towns of Saugerties, Ulster, Kingston, Rosendale, New Paltz and Plattekill.
Surveying shenanigans claimed
For the last 10 months the company has been surveying homeowners’ property along the proposed route. Activists at the rally claimed that in some cases there have been incidents of bullying and misleading property owners that it has the legal authority to do this, according to activists. “People are scared into allowing them onto their property,” said Metzger. “There’s an awful lot of bullying and lying.”
She said two residents gave their permission and were then misled about where the company planned to survey. In one case, the person “was told only a small area on the property would be surveyed, but then trucks showed up in the driveway as they surveyed for an access road.” In another case, land was surveyed “where the owner planned to build a house.”
Nolan, who is an MD, said “the long-term health impacts of oil spills in water and soil have not been fully studied. This may be devastating to families in the area.”