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Dominion attempts to calm pipeline concerns


Photo: Nick Reynolds

For the better part of a year, anti-natural gas activists and neighbors to a natural gas compression station up near Ellis Hollow have vocally opposed an expansion to the project intended to accommodate a greater amount of natural gas flowing through their community.

On Monday night, those activists had a chance to meet face-to-face with the company’s engineers to ask questions about Dominion Energy’s proposed upgrades to the existing New Market Pipeline, object to the process in which it was approved and, for some, make a Hail Mary appeal to company representatives to partake in a voluntary – and legally unnecessary – review process with the Town of Dryden.

Of the nearly 100 people crammed into the meeting space of the Varna Community Center (many bearing signs and t-shirts expressing explicit opposition to the expansion of natural gas consumption), nearly 40 came with questions regarding a proposal to upgrade a pre-existing pipeline to allow for an increased quantity of natural gas to flow from its source in Northern Pennsylvania to the Hudson Valley, where it supplies heat to an estimated 3.6 million people, according to company figures. The expansion is necessary, Dominion representatives said Monday, to accommodate the demands of the company’s two biggest customers in the state – Brooklyn Union Gas and New York State Electric and Gas – and their desire to purchase cheaper, domestically-produced gas rather rely on imports from Canadian gas markets.

While the project itself does not entail the building of a new pipeline, the upgrades to the compressor station were characterized as being a “limited amount of work,” by the Dominion representatives in attendance. However, a common theme of concern from those assembled was not the impacts of the work itself, but what it meant: a greater volume of natural gas flowing through the borders of the Town of Dryden and, in the eyes of some, greater risk assumed.

Dominion, citing the logistics of “critical utilities infrastructure,” would not specify exactly what quantity the increase would entail at maximum capacity, saying their pipelines are rated according to pressure. The compressor station itself would allow the company to pump an additional, but unspecified, amount of gas at up to 900 pounds per square inch which, as members of the audience were quick to point out, ultimately meant a greater volume of gas, period.

Photo: Nick Reynolds

Members of Dominion’s team, in an effort to assuage these concerns, outlined numerous mitigations in place at the Borger Compressor Station including silt fences (to prevent significant runoff from the site during heavy rains), the laws and regulations already in place in New York State, and the functions of various safety measures in place to isolate leaks when – or if – they happen. (Most of the leaks come, one representative said, from people not checking the ground before they begin a digging project).

Yet, as the site falls within an area containing an estimated eight wetlands and 11 creeks in the Cascadilla Creek watershed, there was some concern – and scrutiny – as to how the company was planning around the site. One man, in an impassioned set of comments delivered to the sound of rousing applause and snapping fingers, said no risk – not even a minimal one – should be taken with our waterways. Local activist Walter Hang – who has helped to lead the charge against the pipeline’s increase in capacity – cited a legacy of spills at the site, while considered closed by the Department of Environmental Conservation years ago, he still disputes as never being cleaned to standard, thereby nullifying the legitimacy of the state permits the under-construction project has already obtained. One person speculated on whether or not the pipeline would set a precedent to eventually expand natural gas consumption by an even greater degree in New York City and the Hudson Valley, noting the proposed natural gas plant in Dover, New York being weighed as a replacement for the notorious nuclear facility at Indian Point, which is slated for shutdown by 2021.

As the state has already provided the company with all the necessary approvals needed to move forward, little more can really be done to stop the project: Because the Town of Dryden has limited authority on federally-regulated utilities infrastructure, realistically the only thing town officials can do is to ask the company to voluntarily go through a special land use permitting process, said town supervisor Jason Leifer.

However, he said, it is possible for the town to write a letter or two, should they feel like it.