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Environmental group releases record of spills at pipeline proposed for expansion


ALBANY — A gas pipeline proposed for expansion has been beset by a series of spills dating back to the early 1990s, according to documents obtained by an environmental group.

Dominion's New Market project calls for upgrading an existing pipeline by adding 33,000-horsepower of compressor stations. Two new stations would be built in Central New York — in Madison and Chemung counties — and an existing station in Montgomery County would be upgraded. The existing pipeline brings gas fracked in Pennsylvania into New York near Elmira and runs to Schenectady.

In the last 25 years, the project has seen at least seven spills, according to state Department of Environmental Conservation documents obtained by Toxics Targeting, an Ithaca-based environmental database firm run by fracking opponent Walter Hang. The spills were caused by the failure of an underground pipeline collar, the release of oil from equipment and the overfilling of a tank. Over the years, about 3,000 tons of contaminated soil have been removed from the pipeline, according to the documents.

Hang, who is set to release his findings on Friday, said the results show that the DEC must reject the expansion.

“This project cannot be allowed to proceed because it has already caused pollution problems and waterways have never been properly cleaned up,” he said. “The law is very clear.”

Pipelines are generally considered to be a safer means of transporting gas and oil than by train, ship or truck. However, DEC officials have increasingly scrutinized their construction after Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s fracking ban.

The state is considering extending a public comment period on the New Market expansion and may also hold public hearings on the project, DEC spokesman Sean Mahar said.

"The New Market Utility Project is a proposal to develop two new compressor stations and to modify an existing compressor station — not to expand or develop new pipelines," Mahar said in a statement. "The Comment period ends on August 5th, and DEC will review all comments received at that time."

Dominion complies with the law and reports all spills when they happen, spokesman Frank Mack said. The company also completes all required cleanup and not have outstanding site remediation projects in New York, he said.

"(Dominion Transmission) also has a robust environmental program, and believes in not only complying with the letter of the law but also the spirit and intent," he said in a statement.

New York has become more dependent on natural gas in the last decade. The state’s independent grid operator recently determined that more natural gas infrastructure is needed to maintain reliability in the future. Public Service Commission staff recently acknowledged that natural gas is necessary for economic development in the state. Meeting those needs requires more pipeline infrastructure.

Nonetheless, the administration took the unusual step of rejecting water quality permits for a Constitution pipeline in April after years of indecision. The state’s delays on the Dominion project already are longer than is typical for pipeline proposals, though it’s unclear if it will lead to another rejection.

Dominion has accused the Cuomo administration of unnecessarily delaying an approval of air quality permits for the project — the process has dragged on for more than two years. In addition, company officials have said such delays are unique to New York.