Constitution Pipeline: Laying Down a Dismal Future
On April 11th, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders praised the people of New York for “standing up to Governor Cuomo and demanding that New York State ban fracking.” Senator Sanders credits the grassroots organizations and activists who have worked against fracking for achieving this ban. It is a progressive first step to fundamentally change the world in which we live. However, New York cannot ban fracking for health concerns while simultaneously importing fracked natural gas at the cost of its neighbors’ health and the environment. More fights lie ahead for New Yorkers in taking on the Constitution Pipeline proposed by the Constitution Pipeline Company.
The proposed pipeline would be 124 miles long, connecting fracked natural gas from Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania to the Iroquois Gas Transmission and Tennessee Gas Pipeline systems in Schoharie County, New York. Although the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has already approved the project, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has not.
On Earth Day 2016, the coalition against the Constitution Pipeline received a huge victory: the DEC denied the Section 401 Water Quality Certificate the company needed to begin construction. The project “failed to provide sufficient information to demonstrate compliance with New York State water quality standards.” This action is another great move by New York to avoid the numerous dangers from fracked natural gas and pipelines. We believe New York should ban this project once and for all because it will not benefit the state.
The Constitution Pipeline threatens the rights of private landowners, the basic human right of clean water, the health and safety of citizens, and the sustainability of the country. Any immediate benefits will be short lived and profoundly regretted in the future. Nonetheless, the Constitution Pipeline Company praises the pipeline because it is expected to create thousands of jobs, to decrease the cost of energy, and to promote a “renewable future.”
Infrastructure, such as this pipeline, is being built at the cost of private landowners to accommodate natural gas produced from fracking. Eminent domain is being used to start construction on private lands, often with the help of armed U.S. Marshals. Just last month, the Holleran family in Pennsylvania lost nearly 90 percent of the trees on its property that were formerly used for a commercial maple syrup operation.
In addition, fracking facilities and pipelines have provided striking evidence of groundwater contamination. In 2011, the EPA concluded in its draft report that groundwater in Pavillion, Wyoming showed evidence of compounds from gas production. Concentrations of chemicals and known carcinogens such as glycols, alcohols, and benzene in the water were well above Safe Drinking Water Act standards.
Contamination in groundwater degrades human health. The Pennsylvania Alliance for Clean Water and Air is a citizen organization dedicated to protecting the state's air, water, and people. The group does so by documenting the “List of the Harmed,” keeping track of families and individuals with poor health, attributing the causes to fracking. Bradford County in Pennsylvania is among the counties in which several families and individuals have reported illnesses, and even deaths, in relation to fracking.
Carl Stiles, who died at age 46, lived near the Chesapeake gas wells. At the request of his toxicologist, Stiles and his fiancé moved when their blood tests indicated high levels of barium, arsenic, and volatile organic chemicals. Stiles also had intestinal cancer, headaches, memory loss, and tremors.
The Constitution Pipeline Company claims that natural gas is “renewable”; however, this is absurd. Natural gas is a fossil fuel that is a nonrenewable resource. Because it is a fossil fuel, and its production and burning releases methane and carbon dioxide respectively, natural gas is no more renewable or sustainable than oil. It should not be the answer to energy security.
While natural gas may be a stepping-stone to more sustainable energy production, true energy security requires a focus on long-term supplies, source diversity, and a heightened reliance on alternative and cleaner sources of energy production to decrease our greenhouse gas footprint. The only way to promote a renewable energy future is to encourage further development in multiple alternative energy sectors such as solar and wind power.
The DEC rightfully denied the permit request to build the Constitution Pipeline on Earth Day 2016. This effort is about more than defeating one pipeline—it is also about shifting the way we think about sustainability, energy, and our future.
We acknowledge that less support for fracking wells and pipelines will place jobs and livelihoods at risk; however, the longer we resist change, the worse the cost will be later on.