Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Pipe Dreams

On Friday, April 22 officials from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced the denial of the Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification for the proposed Constitution Pipeline. Their reason: these certificates fail to meet New York State's water quality standards. You can read the full decision, outlined in a letter by John Ferguson, Chief Permit Administrator here (pdf).

The Constitution pipeline, a partnership between Williams Partners, Cabot Oil and Gas, Piedmont Natural Gas and WGL Holdings, was approved by FERC in December 2014. The proposed pipeline would transport gas from Susquehanna County, PA to Schoharie County, NY along a 124-mile route. In NY, Constitution proposed nearly 99 miles of new right-of-way for the 30-inch diameter pipeline, rather than co-locating within existing rights-of-way.

Stream bank clearing for pipelines harms trout habitat
DEC told the media that the agency had requested “significant mitigation measures” to limit impact on the 251 streams along the route. Many of those streams are unique and sensitive ecological areas, including trout spawning streams, old-growth forest, and undisturbed springs, which provide vital habitat and are key to the local ecosystems.

In addition, DEC requested that Constitution provide a “comprehensive and site-specific analysis of depth for pipeline burial to mitigate the project's environmental impact”. According to DEC’s announcement last week, Constitution failed to do this, providing only limited analysis for 21 of the 250 streams. The problem, notes DEC, is that pipes not buried deep enough can become exposed, and any action to correct problems could further affect streams and water quality. 

On Monday, April 25 Constitution Pipeline Company accused DEC of making “flagrant misstatements” and “inaccurate allegations” in defense of its permit denial. In a statement to the press, the pipeline company said DEC’s decision “appears to be driven more by New York State politics than by environmental science”

The company claims that they worked closely with DEC staff for more than three years to make sure that water quality concerns would be adequately addressed. “Completely contrary to NYSDEC’s assertion, we provided detailed drawings and profiles for every stream crossing in New York, including showing depth of pipe.  In fact, all stream crossings were fully vetted with the NYSDEC throughout the review process.” You can read their entire statement here.

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