On April 26, New Yorkers packed a conference room at the Best Western hotel in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn to provide public comment to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on the agency’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) of the Williams NESE fracked gas pipeline.
Williams has proposed to build a 23-mile long pipeline that will carry fracked gas under New York harbor and into New York City. The pipeline would run along the coast of Staten Island then cross the harbor south of Brooklyn to join an existing pipeline four miles off the Rockaways.
In the past, citizens have provided their comments to FERC in front of their peers in a traditional public hearing style. Recently, FERC changed the format, instead having individuals provide their comments to a court reporter in isolated rooms.
The citizens who attended the public comment session on the 26th began sharing their comments with each other after providing them to the court reporter. FERC told them they were not allowed to do that and called in Department of Homeland Security officers (DHS) to prevent them from sharing their comments with the public.
After hearing the public’s concerns that their rights were being violated, the DHS allowed them to continue with a People’s Hearing.
“We know that by them taking us into a private room is breaking up our solidarity with each other,” said Brooklyn resident Kim Fraczek. “And we’re not going to tolerate it.”
New Yorker after New Yorker got up in front of the group and quietly, but determinedly shared their objections to the pipeline, highlighting numerous inadequacies with the current DEIS.
Many came from the Rockaways and said the whole FERC public comment process was inadequate. They questioned why the comment session wasn’t held in a front line community like theirs that would be impacted by the pipeline.
‘They make it as inconvenient as possible so we don’t show up,” said one Rockaway resident.
Other New Yorkers said that the DEIS did not do enough to address the climate impacts of the project, citing high leakage rates of methane from fracked gas infrastructure.
“Despite the DEIS being nearly 800 pages long, methane is only mentioned 18 times,” said Laura Shindell of Brooklyn. “Unfortunately the urgency of climate change and the significant role that methane plays in climate change was not expressed.”
Methane, the main component of fracked gas, is 86 to 100 times more potent a greenhouse gas than C02 for the first 20 years it’s in the atmosphere.
The knowledge of the commenters seemed to far exceed that of FERC commissioner Neil Chatterjee, who at a meeting in D.C. with New Yorkers earlier that week, claimed to not know that the development of fracking and fracked gas infrastructure has greatly increased greenhouse gas emission in the United States.
The science that Chatterjee claims to have no knowledge of says that because methane is such a potent greenhouse gas if just 3% of it leaks throughout the entire fracking process from extraction to delivery, fracked gas is worse for the climate than coal. Researchers are finding leakage rates between 5 and 12%.
So it’s a very troubling statement from a man whose job it is to regulate interstate natural gas pipelines. Many community members have argued for years that FERC is nothing more than a rubber stamp for the fossil fuel industry and will approve a pipeline no matter the impacts on local communities or the climate.
Many of the New Yorkers who provided comment in Bay Ridge are concerned that the construction of the Williams pipeline will dredge up toxins that have settled on the seafloor and threaten many marine species.
“On behalf of all living beings, human, animal, nature, who live in Rockaway and its surrounding waters,” said one Rockaway resident. “I stand in opposition to the Williams pipeline.”
No one who spoke at the People’s Hearing was for the pipeline.
Many of residents who spoke at the hearing don’t have a lot of faith that FERC will listen to the science and the concerns they presented so they’ll continue to call on Governor Cuomo and New York State to stop the Williams NESE fracked gas pipeline for good.
The deadline to provide public comment on the DEIS is May 14. Instruction and sample comments can be found here.