Sunday, April 9, 2017

State DEC denied a permit to build the controversial Northern Access Pipeline in Western NY

By David Kowalski

On Saturday April 8, 2017, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) released a statement denying a permit to National Fuel Gas to build the Northern Access Pipeline, citing concerns about impacts on wetlands, streams, fish and wildlife habitat along the route.

If built, Northern Access would transport gas obtained from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale using hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” The high-pressure pipeline would move half a billion cubic feet of gas per day through Allegany, Cattaraugus and Erie Counties in Western New York, connecting with an existing pipeline for export to Canada.  

As proposed, the Northern Access Pipeline would have carved a 125-foot wide scar through the northwestern Allegheny Plateau, plowing through 192 stream crossings, 270 wetlands and over13 miles of a sole source aquifer that provides drinking water for thousands of Western New Yorkers. These impacts to water resources mirrored the same potential violations to the Clean Water Act presented by the proposed Constitution Pipeline that the NYS DEC rejected in April 2016, under the same certification requirements. 

Albany Rally ~ #NoNAPL
From the beginning of the permitting process DEC officials warned pipeline developers and federal regulators that the Northern Access Pipeline, as planned, could severely harm New York's water resources without major changes. Those warnings were ignored.

“Western New York deserves the same protection for our water, air and residents,” Diana Strablow, a member of the Sierra Club Niagara Group Executive Committee said earlier. “There should be no sacrifice zones. We asked Governor Cuomo and the DEC to do the right thing and deny the water quality certificate and air permits for this destructive project. Not only do we have a moral obligation to stop enabling fracking in Pennsylvania, we must protect our finite supply of fresh water.” 

Landowners facing eminent domain, conservationists and concerned residents marched from DEC headquarters to the capitol building, where they spoke of the threat the pipeline would pose to their health, safety, air, water and livelihoods. The group also delivered copies of a letter signed by more than 140 organizations, businesses and faith communities calling on the DEC and Governor Andrew Cuomo to deny air and water permits for the 97-mile pipeline. 

"After an in-depth review of the proposed Northern Access Pipeline project and following three public hearings and the consideration of over 5,700 comments, DEC has denied the permit due to the project's failure to avoid adverse impacts to wetlands, streams, and fish and other wildlife habitat," the DEC said in a statement on Saturday. "We are confident that this decision supports our state’s strict water quality standards that all New Yorkers depend on.”

A letter from the DEC sent to National Fuel and Empire Pipeline on Friday, April 7, 2017 detailing the basis for denial of the permit is here.

Sierra Club Niagara Group's Diana Strablow applauded DEC’s decision to deny the pipeline and she is looking forward to a safe, sustainable energy future. She said "The temporary construction jobs the project would have created were not worth the price our climate, our waters and the health, safety and well-being of our residents would have to pay, now and in future generations. We stand ready to support labor union jobs that protect our air and water and ramp up our renewable energy sector. We should not have to choose between good paying jobs and a sustainable future. We need a just transition from fossil fuels that takes care of workers and provides a healthy, liveable environment.”
Prior to the DEC's ruling, Lia Oprea, whose property is on the planned pipeline route, said “It’s unbelievable. My family has owned our land for four generations; we’ve been trout fishing in the area since the 1830s and our land is on the National Historic Register. Now, a multi-billion-dollar corporation wants to endanger our lives and our water so they can make more money. That’s not right."

Lia Oprea is now thankful that the pipeline permit was denied and that people united to stop it. She said, “the decision by the DEC renews our family's faith and our 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. 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. Every day, I hike through our fields and woods down to Cattaraugus Creek. which borders the farm that has been in our family for over 100 years. Our neighbors and I couldn’t live with a pipeline tearing through this. Now, thanks to the DEC, we don’t have to.”

The Northern Access Pipeline project previously received approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The granting of permits by the state would have cleared the way for National Fuel to also build a gas compressor station in Pendleton and a dehydration facility in Wheatfield. Plans also called for another compressor station in Elma to be expanded.

Prior to Saturday's decision, critics of the Northern Access Pipeline, including opponents living in Pendleton and Wheatfield, called on the DEC to deny water and air quality permits in hopes of halting the project. In addition to fears regarding emissions, safety and potential leaks, protesters emphasized the 192 stream and 270 wetlands that the pipeline would cross.

Roger Downs, Conservation Director for the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, said that this is "an important victory for the thousands of citizen activists and impacted landowners of Western NY, whose grassroots organizing created the political space for this decision to be made. There may be no better remedy to FERC’s automatic rubber-stamp approval process than the kind of persistent public participation that holds decision makers accountable.”

A spokeswoman for National Fuel, Karen Merkel, said Saturday that the company would have no comment at this time. She said a news release would be forthcoming on Monday.  

Monday, April 10, 2017 - WGRZ: National Fuel Responds to DEC
Tuesday, April 11, 2017 - Buffalo News: National Fuel calls DEC's denial of pipeline project 'troubling'
Tuesday, April 11, 2017 - Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper: Statement: Northern Access Pipeline Permit Denial
Tuesday, April 11, 2017 - Editorial: Pipeline decision still leaves crucial need for natural gas

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