Kingston City Hall jammed for forum opposing Pilgrim Pipeline

(Photo of the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline by Maureen)

Some fast facts on the proposed Pilgrim Pipeline: It would stretch 178 miles from Albany to Linden, N.J., and convey up to 400,000 gallons a day of crude oil from the Bakken Shield in North Dakota. Forty-one of those miles would go through Ulster County, most of them along a 100-foot-wide right of way along the state Thruway, an area that also abuts active farmland. It would traverse 257 water bodies, including the Wallkill River and Esopus and Rondout creeks. It would cross the Hudson River at two points.

The $1 billion pipeline also would not replace oil trains coming down from Albany via Lake Champlain and Chicago over the CSX tracks. Nor would it decrease the barge traffic laden with crude down the Hudson, which the oil and gas industry is attempting to dramatically increase through its request to the U.S. Coast Guard for 43 river anchorages. And contrary to some people’s impressions that pipelines are passive, relatively safe transits for the Bakken’s notoriously volatile crude oil, in fact they are subject to catastrophic leaks.

Those were some of the facts shared by panelists at a forum hosted by Kingstoncitizens.com last Saturday, Jan. 28 at Kingston’s City Hall. For the second time in a month — the first was the meeting by the Common Council to vote on making Kingston a “sanctuary city” — the Common Council chambers were packed as more than 400 people from all over the county crammed onto the benches. Following introductory remarks by KingstonCitizens.com’s Rebecca Martin, Mayor Steve Noble said, to loud applause, that Kingston had environmental staff on the payroll and was poised to become a model of sustainability and green energy. He was followed by Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, who greeted the crowd with, “Welcome to Standing Rock, New York.” Cahill noted “the power within ourselves to conserve” was an essential step in preventing the building of this “permanent monument to fossil fuel in the Hudson Valley.”

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Panelist Jen Metzger, director of Rosendale-based advocacy group Citizens for Local Power, gave an update on the pipeline status. Back in August 2015, the company filed for a use and occupancy permit with the state Thruway Authority. After the authority had notified the affected municipalities that it wanted to serve as the lead agency for the environmental review of the project under state law, some of the towns protested. As a result, the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which the towns had argued was the appropriate agency for conducting the review, will share “lead agency” status with the Thruway Authority. The “lead agency,” as per state law, has the power to deny or approve a proposed project and is charged with evaluating a multitude of potential environmental and socioeconomic impacts the project might have.

Jon Bowermaster, a resident of Stone Ridge who has made a series of short films about the Hudson River, introduced his short film, A Pipeline Runs Through It. The film chronicled not just the possible impacts of the Pilgrim Pipeline but the actual building of a second pipeline, called the Algonquin Incremental Expansion, which extends from Pennsylvania to Boston through the back yards of Peekskill residents and close to the Indian Point nuclear power plant.

Kate Hudson, New York City watershed director at Riverkeeper, described how the Pilgrim Pipeline would require the clearing of 600 acres of forest, including for access roads planned for every mile of the project. A landowner in Catskill, Arielle Herman, spoke about how her farm property would be damaged by the construction.

Following the film, the panelists provided an overview of the pipeline. Jeremy Cherson, advocacy coordinator for Riverkeeper, said that at the height of the market, in 2014, 25 percent of the Bakken’s fracked gas was moving through Albany down the Hudson River. Prior to 2011, no crude had been on the Hudson, but now the oil and gas industry is transforming Albany into a major Northeastern hub for moving fracked gas products down or along the Hudson to New York City.

Cherson said the Pilgrim pipeline actually would consist of two parallel pipelines, one carrying crude south from Albany and the other transporting refined gasoline products from the New Jersey refineries back up to Albany. The volume capacity of the pipeline — 400,000 barrels per day — is half of the capacity of the partially complete Keystone XL Pipeline. It would include five lateral pipelines, one constructed in the Marlborough-Newburgh area. Cherson said 99 access roads were planned for Ulster County, a few of which would be permanent. The pipeline would also have four pumping stations, one of which would be constructed in Town of Ulster.

Cherson said pipelines statistically have three times the spills of trains, with a total of 1,880 spills documented from 2003 to 2013. While Pilgrim claims pipelines are safer, Cherson said only 5 percent of leaks have been detected by sensors. “They failed in the pipeline spill at Santa Barbara,” he said, noting that the 2015 disaster resulted in 143,000 gallons of oil spilled. In its first year of operation, the Keystone pipeline had 35 leaks.

Fellow panelist Andy Bicking, who oversees Scenic Hudson’s government advocacy, talked about the resources that at are risk — including the Hudson River, which would contain 13 miles of pipeline yet is a source of drinking water for numerous communities as well as a habitat for endangered species and acres of farmland which the state has spent millions to protect and conserve. Bicking said that if the pumping stations were functioning, 168,000 gallons could be released in a spill, which would balloon to 357,000 gallons if the pumps weren’t working. The devastation is hard to imagine, given that “one pint of crude spreads out over an acre.”

Bicking also said while 44 percent of spills are due to equipment or operational breakdowns, only a fifth of the nation’s pipelines had been inspected in the past decade — a rate that equates to a 50-year cycle of inspections.

Filling out the panel was Sue Rosenberg, who founded the Coalition Against Pilgrim Pipelines NY (CAPP-NY). CAPP-NY has established a network of working committees, and on Saturday, Feb. 11 it is conducting a training session for activists at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Catskills on Sawkill Road at 9:30 a.m.

Cherson said the pipeline requires a slew of permits from federal agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers. It is being built under the requirements of state Transportation Corporations law, which is a 1909 law giving the power of eminent domain to such projects; the Algonquin extension and the Pilgrim would be the first pipelines built in the state since 1911.

He and Metzger emphasized the importance of citizens sending their concerns and comments to the state so that it can examine all the issues in its review. “The company hasn’t submitted its draft scope, which is good because it buys time for citizens to submit their comments,” he said.”

“Because the DEC looks at the impacts statewide, it’s up to citizens to identify the local issues,” added Metzger.

“The ultimate solution is to wean ourselves off fossil fuels,” she said, noting that the issues is economic as well as environmental, given that “92 cents of energy spend per $1 leaves the area.”

There is one comment

  1. Jeremy Cherson

    Thank you for covering the event. I’d like to correct the record, if possible.

    First, the Bakken oil comes from the Bakken shale play. The proposed Pilgrim project, if approved would have to side-by-side buried pipes. One for Bakken crude, heading south and the second parallel pipe to carry other petroleum products. Each pipeline would have a capacity of 200,000 barrels per day. In sum, there is a potential capacity for 400,000 barrels of Bakken crude and other petroleum products.

    Secondly, though the DEC and the Thruway Authority are co-lead agencies on the environmental review, only Thruway has a permit application in front of them. Therefore, the ultimate decision on whether to grant pilgrim a Use and Occupancy permit for longitudinal use of the interstate is in the hands of Thruway Authority Executive Director Bill Finch. However, this is not the only permit approval Pilgrim needs but it is the one most likely to make or break the project.

    Lastly, the Transportation Corporation Law only applies to oil pipelines and excludes national gas pipelines like the Spectra Algonquin Incremental Market Expansion pipeline that falls under the siting jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

    The public can feel free to reach out to me with any questions or concerns at jcherson(at)riverkeeper.org

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