I-88 Corridor Practical Option For Pipeline
Assemblyman Pete Lopez (R,C,I-Schoharie) today joined with members of the farming community, area residents and local officials to call on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and Governor Cuomo to locate the Constitution Natural Gas Pipeline Project within the Interstate 88 (I-88) corridor.
Energy company Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation (headquartered in Houston, Texas) and Williams (an energy infrastructure company headquartered in Tulsa, Oklahoma) have proposed a path for the pipeline stretching roughly 120 miles from Pennsylvania's Susquehanna County to the Town of Wright in Schoharie County, New York, to connect abundant natural gas supplies in northern Pennsylvania with major northeastern markets by 2015.
According to Assemblyman Lopez, who has met with both companies as well as residents, employers and farmers from across the region to discuss the general proposal, many acknowledge the potential benefits of having abundant, low-cost natural gas available to them, as well as the benefits of additional property tax revenues to the host counties.
Studies have shown that natural gas emits about half as much carbon dioxide as coal when burned to produce electricity, a statistic supported by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). The EIA also has data showing that natural gas prices are approaching historically low levels. At the same time, EIA analysis has shown that clean-burning natural gas currently produces over one-quarter of all electric generation and heats about half of all U.S. homes. For these reasons, Williams and Cabot have planned the 121-mile Constitution Pipeline, which is being designed with capacity to transport enough natural gas to serve approximately three million homes per day.
Additionally, Williams and Cabot estimate that New York counties could see between $1 million and $5 million in projected annual property tax benefits - dollars sorely needed by communities with struggling economies as well as recovery from the floods that devastated the region in 2011.
Assemblyman Lopez stated that while many constituents support the idea of natural gas, many also have expressed concern that the proposed route could disrupt farms, businesses and homeowners, and possibly result in the exercise of eminent domain to secure the necessary rights-of-way needed to advance the project.
"I am very concerned with giving away control of the right-of-way for this pipeline across our land," said area farmer Jim Barber. "The beauty of this valley and the productivity of our land are among the most important assets of our community. If we give away our control, we are vulnerable to additional pipelines, power lines, or whatever else the energy company chooses to build there. Whatever promises are made or assurances given, we all know that there is no guarantee after the ownership is sold. Whatever short-term benefit is thought to come from this pipeline, it is indeed small when compared to the potential for long lasting consequences."
Seeking a balance between the benefits and the expressed concerns of area residents, Assemblyman Lopez has requested, in a letter to FERC and the Governor, that the project be sited within the existing right-of-way along Interstate 88. In the letter, the Assemblyman makes reference to the already close proximity of the proposed pipeline to I-88 and sees it as a means of addressing landowner sensitivities.
"I believe that siting the pipeline along Interstate 88 is the most practical, expeditious and least controversial option, especially considering that Williams and Cabot already are looking to bring the project very close to this thoroughfare," said Assemblyman Lopez. "Thoughtful use of the I-88 corridor makes the most sense for all involved, and sets a positive example for further infrastructure investment (i.e. fiber optic placement) along our interstates, both in New York and across the nation."
"The I-88 right-of-way is an excellent alternative to having the pipeline run under farmland, past businesses and homes," said Anne Mattice-Strauch, of the Mattice farm in Blenheim and a local Town Board Member. "Agriculture is the number one industry in Schoharie County. The Schoharie Valley was the 'bread basket' of the Revolutionary War, and the first agricultural district of the state, of which it just celebrated its 40th year."
Mattice-Strauch added, "The historic flooding of last year also should illustrate that the valley is not the place for a new pipeline, with too great a potential for erosion and exposure. This proposal will be advantageous for both Constitution Pipeline and the families and businesses it would impact. Constitution will not have to negotiate with landowners for an easement through each person's individual properties and businesses. I believe the I-88 right-of-way is the best spot possible for the new pipeline, and thank Assemblyman Lopez for thinking out of the box."
The Assemblyman believes the request is within reach but acknowledges there may be some challenges to locating it entirely within the I-88 right-of-way, pointing to a posting on the Constitution Pipeline's website (http://constitutionpipeline.com/faq/#hydraulic), which gives an early indication of Williams' and Cabot's receptivity to the concept. In this posting, the companies advise that the I-88 corridor is under review, but note a number of challenges such as available workspace, constructability, proximity to populated areas, and potential environmental impacts that could make it problematic.
While Williams' and Cabot's pursuit of the initial proposal is underway, Lopez believes there is still opportunity to hold this discussion between the companies, FERC, Gov. Cuomo's office and the affected communities. "We appear to still be in planning phases," noted Assemblyman Lopez. "Our challenge will be to get everyone engaged with this goal in mind."
According to information posted on the Constitution Pipeline's website, a pre-filing process was initiated with FERC in April of this year (Docket #PF12-9) as an initial step in seeking a federal Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, in addition to various state and local permits required to allow the pipeline to be constructed.
According to Williams and Cabot, the FERC pre-filing process is intended to solicit early input from citizens, governmental entities and other interested parties to identify and address issues with potential facility locations.
Initial ground surveys were to begin in June of this year (contingent upon receiving permission from the landowners) to determine the best location for the proposed pipeline facilities. Open houses and informational meetings have been scheduled for this month throughout the region, and easement negotiations are slated for the fall of 2012.
Following the pre-filing period, Constitution Pipeline Company would file an application with FERC in early 2013 seeking approval to construct the pipeline.
"If you take a close look at the proposed map, the potential is there, we just need to put our collective thoughts and ideas together to make it work," added Assemblyman Lopez. "Even if we can't fit the entire project within the I-88 footprint, we should agree to place as much of it within the I-88 right-of-way as possible to achieve the balance of making the resource available, while minimizing the land acquisition impacts on local homes, farms and businesses."
EDITORS' NOTE: A list of frequently asked questions and answers (Attachment 1), a summary of the proposed project (Attachment 2), and schedule of FERC open houses and informational meetings (Attachment 3) are attached, along with a map of the proposed pipeline from Constitution Pipeline's website. All attachments are compiled from information from Constitution Pipeline's website.