July 2nd, 2012 by Don Lieber
West Village, Tribeca zip codes 10014, 10013, 10011 and 10001 at ‘ground zero’ of new pipeline entrance.
The New Jersey/New York Expansion Project, informally known as “The Spectra Pipeline” (Spectra Energy is the Houston-based natural gas infrastructure corporation behind the project), is a new, 30-inch-diameter pipeline that will transport up to 800 million cubic feet per day of natural gas from ‘fracked’ mining sites in nearby states into Manhattan.
On June 28, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) granted approval to Spectra to proceed with construction of the pipeline, which is expected to begin soon. The pipeline is scheduled to begin operating in November 2013.
The pipeline will enter New York City from Jersey City, NJ, going across the Hudson River and entering Manhattan at the southwest corner of the Gansevoort Peninsula at the West Side Highway at Gansevoort Street. This is zip code 10014.
Zip Code 10014 is small geographically but dense. According to the US census, 4,632 families reside here, including 1,823 children under the age of 10.
Three New York City public schools serve zip code 10014, with a combined enrollment of 1,637 students.
Public School 3, located approximately 2,500 feet from the pipeline’s proposed entrance into Manhattan, has a student population of approximately 625 students up to 5th grade.
The four closest New York City Zip Codes to the pipeline’s entrance – Zip Codes 10013, 10011, 10001, and 10014 encompass the ‘lower west side’ neighborhoods of Tribeca, the West Village, Chelsea, and the Meatpacking District. Together, almost 10,000 children under the age of 10 live in these four zip codes – all within several hundred yards of this massive new pipeline.
The Spectra Pipeline will enter Manhattan approximately 300 feet north of the “Pier 51 Play Area” – known locally as “toddler playground – a modern new urban outdoor play area popular with families who live in lower Manhattan.
The list of pipeline accidents, involving both oil and gas pipelines, is so long that the Wikipedia listing of such accidents is broken up into accidents by decade: there are 74 separate accidents listed since 2010 alone.
As recently as this month — June 2012 — there were two gas pipeline accidents involving Spectra. The accidents, on June 23 and June 28, involved a pipeline rupture and a flash fire. These accidents caused several injuries. Both incidents occurred in rural Western Canada, outside Fort St. John in British Columbia.
Gas pipelines and their associated transport, processing and delivery mechanisms have exploded, set fire, ruptured, leaked or otherwise malfunctioned from a wide range of causes: human error, natural disaster, substandard manufacture, damage caused unintentionally due to proximity to other underground infrastructure projects.
The consequences of pipeline accidents have ranged from injury to death, to public evacuation and the emission of carcinogenic, radioactive and other toxic chemicals into the air, water and soil.
Gas pipelines involve a mix of chemicals, including known carcinogens and radioactive gases such as Benzene, Methane and Radon. (Radon — an odorless gas — is considered the second largest contributor to lung cancer in the United States, after smoking, by the EPA). Natural Gas mining and consumption have been associated with severe public health and environmental degradation, due to these chemicals, in dozens of communities across the United States, the majority of which are rural/farm locations in areas with far less population density than Manhattan. Dimock, Pennsylvania and Pavillon, Wyoming are two such communities, as featured in Josh Fox’s Academy-nominated documentary Gasland. The families in these communities, as detailed in the film, experienced a range of debilitating health problems and environmental contamination since the introduction of new Natural Gas mining (fracking) in those communities. (See the trailer to Gasland here below.)
One famous scene from Gasland shows one Wyoming family’s tap water — used for drinking and bathing — bursting into flames due to the high levels of methane gas which had leaked into the town’s ground water — shortly after the introduction of natural gas mining. (Methane, the primary component in natural gas, is also a more potent, heat-trapping greenhouse gas than carbon — it is thus a significant contributor to climate change.)
Spectra Energy’s history includes several major accidents. In 2004, explosions at a Spectra gas storage facility at Moss Bluff, Texas sparked a fire that burned for 6 1/2 days. Six billion cubic feet of gas were released. Residents within three miles were forced to evacuate. Several years earlier, in 1987, Texas Eastern, a division of Spectra, was fined $15 million by the Environmental Protection Agency for discharging highly toxic polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) at 89 sites along 9,000 miles of pipeline stretching from Texas. The fine ranks among the highest in the EPA’s history.
Spectra Energy itself gives fair warning about the safety of its pipelines. Although, its warnings don’t seem to be entirely relevant to urban locations such as New York City: the corporate website warns residents living near pipelines to “take care in tilling and plowing not to damage the pipeline” and that “burning anything within the pipeline right-of-way could impact the integrity of the pipeline facilities.” How these warnings might apply in Manhattan, where ‘tilling and plowing’ have long given way to endless construction projects involving underground electricity lines, subway construction, sewage and water projects, building construction and other large-scale infrastructure projects – remains to be seen.
In September 2010, a high pressure gas pipeline exploded in San Bruno, CA, a suburb of San Francisco. The blast destroyed 38 homes and damaged 120 homes. Eight people died and many were injured. Ten acres of brush also burned. It was later revealed that this pipeline had recorded 26 leaks between 1951 to 2009.
Clare Donohue, of SaneEnergyProject.org, one of several organizations now mounting legal challenges against the pipeline, notes that the San Bruno pipeline was similar in both pressure and size as the one Spectra is planning to build into New York City. “This is a thirty inch gas pipeline—the [circumference] of a cafe table—and its coming in with the force of a fire hose.”
Jim Hall, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board under President Clinton, put it this way: “All of these underground pipelines are potential bombs.”
Nevertheless, the permits necessary to build the pipeline have been granted. As of now, this 30-inch diameter pipeline will enter the most densely populated county in the United states 300 feet from a large playground, 2,500 feet from Public School 3, and within a globally-warmed summer’s breeze of the approximately 150,000 children, under age 10, living in Manhattan.
- Full Wiki list of oil and gas pipeline accidents
- 2010 Census
- School Digger
- Vancouver Sun
- Wikipedia page for San Bruno pipeline explosion
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