The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and National Fuel are at a disagreement over the Northern Access Pipeline project and its affects on local water sources.
The DEC denied water permits for a pipeline which would have taken gas from fracking fields in northwest Pennsylvania through Allegany, Cattaraugus, Erie and Niagara counties up into Canada.
The Northern Access Pipeline
According to the DEC, the pipeline would have moved half a billion cubic feet of gas per day. The DEC says this would have gone against its commitments to conservation. Governor Cuomo also opposed the pipeline, which would have countered his plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the use of fracked gas.
According to National Fuel Gas Supply Corporation ("Supply") and Empire Pipeline, Inc. ("Empire"), the half billion dollar privately-funded natural gas infrastructure expansion is designed to provide more reliability to the Western New York natural gas markets and give a low-cost source of energy for residential and commercial customers throughout the North American pipeline grid.
National Fuel says the project is also expected to increase annual property tax receipts $11.8 million and an additional one-time sales tax impact of $6.6 million for four New York counties, which 12 school districts will benefit from.
The DEC denies National Fuel's request for a water permit
But the DEC was not prepared to let the project move forward. Close to midnight on Friday's deadline, the DEC said the proposed pipeline failed to comply with state and federal water quality standards.
"This decision follows opposition from nearly 150 organizations across the state, as well as three heavily attended public hearings and more than 5,700 public comments," said the DEC.
There was opposition to the pipeline from the DEC, residents and environmental advocates, all of whom were concerned about its impacts to air and water quality, ecology, tourism, and property values.
But Supply and Empire says the pipeline's effects are only temporary.
"While we are still analyzing the NYS DEC's rationale, the denial is purportedly based upon NYS DEC's determination that Supply and Empire's construction activities will impermissibly affect the quality of waters in the state, notwithstanding voluminous detailed studies prepared and submitted by the companies and our consultants that show any such effects are temporary and minor," said Ronald Tanski, President and Chief Executive Officer of National Fuel Gas Company.
Tanski went on to say that the construction of the pipeline is far less harmful on the water that other projects that have been cleared and given water quality certification.
"These construction activities would certainly have less effect than either exploding an entire bridge structure and dropping it into Cattaraugus Creek (Route 219) or developing and continuously operating a massive construction zone in the middle of the Hudson River (Tappan Zee Bridge) for a minimum of five years, both NYS DEC approved projects," said Tanski.
Tanski also says that Supply and Empire's previous projects used the same proposed construction practices with an excellent environmental record that would be used to build the pipeline.
Supply and Empire says it is also bothered because the DEC waited until the last possible moment to issue its denial even after Supply and Empire conducted studies at the DEC's request.
"What is perhaps the most troubling aspect of this decision is that the NYS DEC waited literally until the 11th hour to issue this denial, even though we had detailed discussions with NYS DEC staff over a 34-month period and undertook detailed engineering and environmental studies at the agency's request, to support the stream-crossing techniques that now form the basis of their denial," said Tanski.
Tanski says the DEC is also setting standards that are inconsistent and unrealistic.
"We believe the NYS DECs analysis completely ignores the record that we developed in this process and is inconsistent with the standards of the Clean Water Act," said Tanski. "Further, it attempts to set a new standard that cannot possibly be met by any infrastructure project in the state that crosses streams or wetlands, whether it is a road, bridge, water, or an energy infrastructure project."
But the DEC says the pipeline would cross an unacceptable number of streams and wetlands, causing more damage to local environments than is acceptable.
The DEC says the pipeline would damage more than 70 acres of wetlands, some permanently, and would harm some significant animal species, including brown and rainbow trout.
The DEC also says "the Project fails to avoid or adequately mitigate adverse impacts to water quality" and "causes a negative cumulative effect on water quality to that watershed or basin."
According to the DEC, National Fuel did not try to avoid harm where possible.
Property owners and the pipeline
Some landowners expressed gratitude for the DEC's decision. Lia Oprea said it renewed her family's faith and rural Western New York neighbors' faith in local action.
"It feels as if a tide is turning in the right direction and our voices are finally being heard," said Oprea. "When a fuel company comes to you with threats to condemn your fourth-generation farmland under eminent domain for a pipeline right-of-way, it can be very intimidating. It has been a long fight. You don't get much sleep when your land, your livelihood, your heritage and your future is on the line."
The DEC says the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency that oversees interstate natural gas pipelines, gave the final approval of the Norther Access project in February, despite landowner objections. National Fuel then petitioned a federal judge to condemn the properties of the owners who would not sign contracts. The contracts allowed the 24-inch pipeline to cross their properties.
National Fuel then went on to file court papers early last week before the DEC's April 7 deadline. However, it is unknown at this time whether the company will move forward to condemn the landowners who refused to sign the contract. Opponents of the pipeline hope that National Fuel will withdraw the lawsuit now that the state has denied its proposal to build the pipeline.
Joe Schueckler of Cuba, N.Y. says he agrees with the DEC's decision to protect the water and will continue to be against the Northern Access Pipeline, because of what it will do to the environment. He also believes National Fuel is taking advantage of people and misleading them.
National Fuel says the pipeline will help New York become more sustainable.
"Additional natural gas infrastructure is essential to connect nearby, growing supply areas to New York consumers," said Tanski. "As new York continues a long-term transition to more and more renewable electric generation, it is essential for the natural gas industry to stand ready, at a moment's notice, to provide the gas supply necessary to generate the power to support the reliability of the power grid."
But Schueckler says Western New Yorkers won't benefit like National Fuel says they will. He says the pipeline is not intended for local use and is more a matter of private profit than public need.
"They say it's going to benefit people in Western New York, but it seems to me they're going to put it on the open market through Canada," said Schueckler. "And all of that is going to raise the price of gas."
Joe Gibson, a Western New York community organizer with the Clean Air Council, applauds the governemnt for its decision.
"I'm glad that Cuomo and the DEC didn't heel to National Fuel," said Gibson. "The denial of this pipeline following that of the Constitution Pipeline last year says to me that the governor won't allow destructive fracked-gas pipelines through our state anymore. I hope he continues to stop the buildup of all fracked-gas infrastructure across the state."