Is it possible for a pipeline carrying 200,000 barrels of oil per day to be green?
That’s the contention of the company planning the 178-mile Pilgrim Pipeline from Albany to New Jersey, who said a study shows the pipeline would generate 20 percent less greenhouse gas than moving the oil by barge.
Local opponents called the claim “an Orwellian whopper.”
The crux of the issue seems to be the company’s assumption that the pipeline will displace trains and barges. It argues that the region’s energy needs are stable and the ban on U.S. oil exports remains in effect, so the amount of oil to be transported is essentially a zero sum game. Opponents point out that there is no guarantee that barge or train traffic would be reduced.
It was the latest back-and-forth between Pilgrim Pipeline Holdings, LLC and opposition groups throughout the pipeline’s path, collectively grouped as the Coalition Against the Pilgrim Pipeline. The Ulster County Legislature and a few dozen municipalities, including Saugerties, have passed resolutions opposing the project.
In keeping with the time-tested strategy for derailing projects, the opposition is focusing on making the review process as arduous as possible. The current push is to get the Department of Environmental Conservation to contest the Thruway Authority’s bid to act as lead agency because of the DEC’s experience with environmental issues and the assumption that it would be more rigorous. (The Thruway Authority is involved because most of the pipeline would be built on the Thruway right-of-way.)
Saugerties was among the 15 local communities who wrote letters as part of this effort, with Supervisor Greg Helsmoortel pointing to the potential environmental impacts of the pipeline. The deadline for letters was Dec. 16.
Pilgrim Pipeline, LLC explained how its independent consultant, Environmental Resource Management, compared the pipeline to greenhouse gas emission levels resulting from existing barge traffic on the Hudson River. The report compares all emissions that would result from pipeline operations, including electricity taken off the grid to power the pipeline, with the emissions generated by the diesel engines of tugboats that push fuel barges up and down the Hudson River. If approved, the pipeline would carry refined products like home heating oil, gasoline, diesel and kerosene north from Linden and crude oil south from Albany. The report was filed as part of the company’s application for state environmental review.
The kindest words Sue Rosenberg, head of Saugerties’ Coalition Against the Pilgrim Pipeline, had for the report was that it was “short-sighted.”
Using harsher language, she called the report “a gross misrepresentation of the facts.”
Creating an infrastructure, which would be available for decades and would be used for that long, flies in the face of the recent international agreement to limit the generation of greenhouse gas, she said.
“We can’t be saying we’re committed to turning this around and at the same time build an infrastructure that will guarantee it will grow.”
Kate Hudson, Riverkeeper’s director for Cross-Watershed Initiatives, said that Pilgrim’s premises on climate are incorrect and would lead to an increase in greenhouse gases. Building the pipelines, she said, would not necessarily reduce barge traffic, since “nothing would require it.”
In addition, she said, building the pipelines would “lock us into taking fossil fuel out of the ground and burning it decades into the future.”
Pilgrim spokesman Paul Nathanson said investing in fossil-fuel infrastructure and investing in renewables isn’t an either/or proposition.
“It’s very simply a choice between upgrading 19th-century infrastructure — barge and train traffic — into the 21st century,” he said. “No one’s creating a solar-powered plane real soon. We won’t have anything like that for decades to come.”
“Pilgrim offers a safer, more efficient and more environmentally sound option to transport the region’s critical fuels.”
Nathanson wouldn’t say if the company was concerned about the possibility of having the DEC become the project’s lead agency.
“There will be various hearings with outreach where we will continue to answer questions,” he said.
Nathanson said the company “welcomed an honest debate,” although the Saugerties Town Board might disagree — it voted “no confidence” in the company after the company canceled a public forum last June. Mutual recriminations followed over the meeting’s format.