A local grassroots organization has teamed up with state and national environmental groups to raise new concerns regarding the controversial proposed natural gas pipeline that could run through Jersey City if the project is approved by the federal government this summer.
On May 10 the Jersey City-based group No Gas Pipeline filed a motion with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that raises new concerns about the potential for carcinogenic (cancer causing) radon gas leaks into homes if the pipeline project is approved. The motion was filed in partnership with the Sierra Club and Food & Water Watch.
FERC has previously rejected concerns about radon. However, No Gas Pipeline, the Sierra Club, and Food & Water Watch have submitted new research which they hope will pressure the federal agency to weight the potential hazards associated with radon gas before making a decision on Spectra’s application.
‘We estimate closer to 76 percent of the initial concentration of radon at Marcellus shale wellheads will arrive at New York State residences.’ – Marvin Resnikoff
The City of Jersey City and a number of residents, businesses, and community organizations submitted comments to FERC last year to register their objections to the planned pipeline. The May 10 motion filed by No Gas Pipeline, the Sierra Club, and Food & Water Watch supplements earlier comments these groups submitted to FERC last year.
If approved by FERC, the proposed pipeline would include 19.8 miles of new and replacement pipes, six new stations, and other related modifications in Linden, Jersey City, and Bayonne. In Jersey City, the underground pipeline route would run through nearly every municipal ward and near such sensitive areas as Jersey City Medical Center, several schools, the Holland Tunnel, the New Jersey Turnpike, and the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail and PATH transportation infrastructure near the Jersey City-Hoboken border.
The pipeline would cross the Hudson River into New York to connect the company’s existing pipeline to Manhattan and Staten Island, supplying customers of Con Edison.
Spectra has also said that it will supply energy to power facilities operated by Bayonne Plant Holding and boilers at the International Matex Tank Terminals, also in Bayonne.
But because of the pipeline’s close proximity to sensitive areas, local activists and city officials have argued that a natural gas explosion could cause mass casualties and significantly damage important transportation infrastructure. Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy has also noted that the potential hazards posed by a gas pipeline could hurt future commercial and residential development in the city.
Despite these concerns, the energy company has already received several required environmental permits from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. These permits were approved in December.
Groups renew radon concerns
No Gas Pipeline, the Sierra Club, and Food & Water Watch have long argued that residents in New York and New Jersey could face increased exposure to cancer-causing radon gas if the pipeline is approved – an argument FERC has rejected.
If the pipeline is built, Spectra would tap into a geological formation – known as Marcellus shale – that spans Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Marcellus shale holds one of the largest reserves of recoverable natural gas and many energy companies are banking that the future of their industry rests on tapping into this reserve.
But environmentalists have raised a host of concerns about natural gas derived from Marcellus shale. Among them is the belief that Marcellus shale increases the levels of radon inside homes and other buildings that rely on natural gas from this source. Radon is a known cancer-causing agent and has been specifically linked to lung cancer.
Since radon’s strength and toxicity deteriorate as natural gas is produced and transported to customers, FERC has argued that it does not pose a health risk since it is likely to “decay” by the time natural gas is used in a home or other building. The agency has also argued that homes and appliances are equipped with enough ventilation to mitigate any radon that might seep into homes burning natural gas.
However, citing a study by Marvin Resnikoff Ph.D., No Gas Pipeline, the Sierra Club, and Food & Water Watch have tried to counter FERC’s arguments.
Noting that “radioactive gas has a half-life of 3.8 days” in a January 2012 study titled “Radon in Natural Gas from Marcellus shale,” Resnikoff goes on to state that, “Most of the natural gas currently consumed in New York State arrives from the Gulf Coast, a distance of 1800 miles. The closer to the point of use, the shorter the transport time. And the Marcellus shale is much closer, less than 400 miles to New York City. With a travel time of 10 mph in the pipeline, only about 25 percent of the initial radon from the Gulf Coast remains to enter homes. Since gas from the Marcellus shale travels a much shorter distance, a greater fraction remains. We estimate closer to 76 percent of the initial concentration of radon at Marcellus shale wellheads will arrive at New York State residences.”
While this is mainly a concern for energy customers in New York who will be immediately serviced by the pipeline, it could eventually impact New Jersey residents, said William Schulte, senior staff attorney with the Eastern Environmental Law Center.
These threats “would potentially impact any end users of natural gas produced from the Marcellus shale that are in close…proximity to the source of the gas [if there isn’t enough time] for the radon to decay to safe levels. Throughout the application process Spectra has maintained that they are going to install taps at the Jersey City M&R station for future connection to the PSE&G distribution lines. When that happens it could affect end users in New Jersey,” said Schulte, who also provides legal counsel to No Gas Pipeline.
Marylee Hanley, a spokesperson for Spectra, said these risks are exaggerated. “The NJ – NY Expansion Project will deliver a clean, domestic and diverse supply of natural gas to the region that meets or exceeds our federal gas quality specifications,” said Hanley.
Decision expected next month
The four-member Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is currently reviewing Spectra’s application and is expected to render a decision on the pipeline next month. Most observers expect FERC to approve the project, which could clear the way for construction to begin later this year.
Several organizations and the city have said they will file lawsuits if the pipeline is approved.
FERC’s Final Environmental Impact statement on the pipeline is available to the public and can be accessed through the agency’s eLibrary database:
Anyone interested in accessing the full FERC case file regarding the Spectra Energy project should refer to Docket No. CP11-56-000. Officially, the Spectra pipeline is known as the Texas Eastern Transmission and Algonquin Gas Transmission New Jersey-New York Expansion Project.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.