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Could new information derail the New Market pipeline?


Route of the Dominion gas pipeline south from Ellis Hollow Creek Road.
(Photo: Bill Chaisson)

With the state-spanning New Market Pipeline recently receiving the rubber stamps from the state necessary for it to move further ahead in the approval process, a local activist said he believes he has proof that contamination along the pipeline’s alignment in several locations – including in Tompkins County – could potentially derail the project.

Building off a campaign that begun last August, environmentalist and Toxics Targeting president Walter Hang – who has been fighting the expansion of the Dominion-owned New Market Pipeline – has been arguing that a number of oil spills dating to the late-1990s along the pipeline’s route were never cleaned to acceptable standards, using that information to dispute whether or not the project’s granting of air quality and water quality permits were justifiable. A confessed opponent of natural gas expansion, especially involving the transport of natural gas from Pennsylvania, Hang has held a pair of news conferences over the past year outlining his findings.

Last August, Hang disclosed information detailing contamination related to the Dominion Pipeline at several sites proposed for compression station upgrades, a series of retrofits that would have added 33,000 hp of compression power to the existing pipeline to expand the distribution of fracked natural gas from Pennsylvania to New England, prompting an outcry from opponents of fossil fuel expansion and extending the public comment period for the project. Recently, Governor Andrew Cuomo quietly issued three FERC permits for three compressor stations – in Horseheads, Sheds (in Madison County) and Brookman Corners – allowing plans for the project to move forward.

According to information contained documents obtained by Hang through a Freedom of Information request, contamination along the pipeline’s route related to natural gas activities was found to be worse than Hang’s early findings that were initially reported by media, including the Ithaca Times. While early findings found that many spills along the route – including two minor spills of less than a gallon at a transmission station at 219 Ellis Hollow Creek Rd. – were never cleaned up to applicable standards, Hang’s findings on Thursday revealed that the cleanup efforts undertaken were much more significant than initially reported, indicating historic dumping of petroleum on the site had likely taken place for years and created exceedances of toxic chemicals in the surrounding, protected wetlands, which flow into Cascadilla Creek.

Hang alleges “thousands of gallons” of material was dumped into the soil, resulting in hundreds of tons of contaminated dirt removed from the site. However, Hang said much of the contamination could not be cleaned up due to a) some of the dirt being beneath soils and b) some of it leaching into the surrounding wetland (noted in documents obtained by Hang), meaning that any spill of that scope would have been impossible to clean to satisfaction.

“The amount spilled (the specific quantity of which is still undetermined), when you see the contamination it sounds trivial; one gallon, who cares?” Hang said. “The problem is they identified that this one gallon was a parcel of a historic dumping process… the reality is there are these ancient trenches where they just poured the waste into the ground right next to a protected wetland. This is an ongoing problem and under the law – Section 401 of the water quality act – you can’t grant the requisite certification if the proposed project, either through its construction or operation, will contribute to water quality violations.”

However, Dominion refutes these allegations, saying that the report cited by Hang was merely a preliminary report and that he was “cherry picking the data,” according to a spokesman for the company, Frank Mack.


According to Dominion, the reports obtained by Hang was an “interim” report that describes results of additional soil and groundwater sampling performed by the company to further delineate and characterize areas of concern identified by previous investigations.

“The final report submitted to the NYSDEC detailing all of the confirmatory soil sampling and compliance with the regulatory requirements in effect at the time of this project is the January 27, 2000 Remedial Action Report,” reads an emailed statement to the Ithaca Times. “The conclusion in this report states: ‘Confirmation soil samples were collected to verify that the remaining soils . . . have met the project cleanup standards.’”

Mack said complete delineation of the facility including the avoidance of protected waterways nearby was conducted during this remediation project and were addressed,the cleanup efforts approved by the NYSDEC with no impacts to Cascadilla Creek identified.

Hang's Argument

In recent emails between Hang and DEC spill engineer Richard Brazell, the previously unreleased results of soil tests on the site conducted in 1999 indicated there were still some exceedances of serious contaminants on-site and, based on current state standards, contained are exceedances for Benzo(a)anthracene and chrysene (defined as toxic hydrocarbons by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry) that were never cleaned to state standards.

In compliance with DEC regulations, Dominion agreed no “permanent impacts” would take place in the protected wetlands related to the new expansion project, the violation of which Hang said would immediately disqualify the project from consideration.

Dominion and the DEC, however, have maintained that they did in fact comply with DEC regulations, noting no toxins were noted to be above NYSDEC action levels in the groundwater samples from four sampling events conducted to monitor the impacts of the spills. The NYSDEC formally closed this incident as documented in a letter dated January 3, 2001.

When discussing the impact of the previous spills at the site and whether or not petroleum would actually be harmful to the surrounding wetland, a hydrogeologist with the department, Kevin Hale, told the Ithaca Times in August that fears of serious contamination stemming from spills on the site were overblown.

SEE: The Remedial Action Report

“Petroleum is biodegradable,” Hale said, stipulating that it be in the presence of oxygen. (Groundwater, he added, is oxygenated). “We essentially ‘lance’ it and Mother Nature takes care of the rest. A year or two after a spill things are back to normal.”

Hang, disagrees.

“That comment from Kevin Hale was absolutely deranged,” said Hang. “Why would New York State fine oil dumpers up to $25,000 a day if the oil is just going to degrade? If you spread it, let’s say, on a driveway, it would eventually break down – the molecules would evaporate – and it would eventually break down. Once it’s underground, the sun isn’t touching the contamination. So when Mr. Hale said this, that’s just not what the law requires.”

Whether or not Hang’s revelations, if true, could impact the progress of the project is hazy. This week, Hang said he will utilize Toxic Targeting’s listserv to influence a barrage of correspondence to Governor Cuomo’s office to prevent the project from moving forward and he would be personally writing letters to both the governor and the Army Corps of Engineers demanding all permits for the pipeline expansion be rescinded.

Dominion, Mack said, remains confident the project will move forward.

“We believe that the 1998 self-reported, voluntary remediation project at Borger Station will not impact the New Market Project certificate received from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC),” said Mack. “The FERC does consider past actions of the applicant when determining the required mitigation factors in agency’s environmental review of New Market, but we are confident and the NYSDEC has confirmed that this issue in question at this station has been resolved and closed.”