Last Friday, exactly one year after the massive natural gas pipeline blast that killed eight and leveled a San Bruno, California neighborhood, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) brought the controversial New Jersey-New York gas line one step closer to construction.
The pipeline, as proposed by Spectra Energy, would carry shale gas through a number of New Jersey towns, under the Hudson River, and into the Meatpacking District of Lower Manhattan. On Friday, FERC released a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that gave preliminary approval for construction of the pipeline and all of the related aboveground facilities. The EIS runs over 800 pages long, so I wasn’t able to give it a thorough read (you can find links to all the sections here), but the Executive Summary gave every indication that the line would be approved. FERC found “that construction and operation of the NJ-NY Project would result in limited adverse environmental impacts” and that “[T]hese limited impacts would mostly occur during the period of construction.”
For all the detailed discussion of wetlands and waterways and noise pollution and archaeological sites, there’s one major risk – environmental and public safety – that the report glosses over.
What happens if there’s an explosion?
Granted, it isn’t the role of an EIS to disqualify a pipeline on pure disaster risk potential, but you’d think that it would have to address the environmental impacts associated with the very real potential for explosive accidents. FERC finds just a “slight increase in risk” to residents who live near this 30 inch shale gas pipeline.
The public safety advocates behind NoGasPipeline.org make the case that the proposed NJ-NYC gas line would be roughly the same size and rely on the same pressure as that which caused the deadly San Bruno blast. Of course, that San Bruno line was old – originally installed in 1956, but a recent report by the National Transportation Safety Board blamed lax regulatory oversight and PG&E’s inadequate safety monitoring for the fatal tragedy.
Spectra has already lost local confidence in their safety measures. As reported by Natural Gas Watch in June, federal regulators cited Spectra with “17 inadequacies in its pipeline safety operations and procedures” for things like “continuing pipeline surveillance” and “welding procedures.”
The folks at Natural Gas Watch mapped out a rough version of potential impacts if a blast similar to San Bruno were to occur at the pipeline's point of entry into Manhattan.
Upon receiving the draft EIS, Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy expressed his disappointment in no unclear terms. The report “does not address our primary concerns, which are the safety and security of our residents and the impact on the future development of our city,” Healy said in a statement. “Additionally, we feel strongly that there are serious environmental impacts that this would have on our community and our residents, and we remain vehemently opposed to this project.”
The public now has 45 days to comment on the draft EIS before the final version is prepared. You can e-file your comments here until October 31st.