Thursday, August 7, 2014

Pipeline-Schmoozers, Micro-Brewskis, and FERC-Facades: The Atlantic Sunrise Scoping Hearing, Bloomsburg University, 8.6.14

Photo Wendy Lynne Lee

Below is the Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania Press Enterprise story--reporter Susan Schwartz--of the 8.6.14 Federal (not really) Energy (owns us) Regulatory (hardly!) Commission, FERC, "this is not really a hearing" scoping hearing at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. 

A couple of observations:

(1) It's no wonder the PE--whose editor Jim Sachetti is a veritable cheerleader for all manner of carbon extraction--offers little more than a "human interest" story that fails to capture the overwhelming opposition to Williams Partner's plans to construct the absurdly named Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline Expansion of the TRANSCO.

Indeed, in the very same issue of the Press Enterprise is both a story about Minuteman Towing's ongoing criminal case for, among other egregious environmental crimes, the illegal washing out and storage of containers contaminated by well-drilling waste at their Milton company offices (just for starters, look here: UPDATE: Minuteman Environmental responds to raid » News » The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA), and a heart-wrenching--if truly absurd--Sachetti-editorial about the mean-ole' EPA's "war on coal"! What's, of course, absurd is that despite the indisputable fact that coal mining, fracking--and every other form of industrialized fossil fuel extraction--contributes mightily to accelerating climate instability, at least one rural hometown paper continues to tow the line for an agenda that's not merely in the tank for Big Corporate Moola, but requires a virtually pathological level of denial about the devastating ecological consequences, dangers to human and nonhuman health, loss of property value, and significant compromise of quality of life. 

Hence, what we're treated to is a rather lackluster story about a few folks who spoke out against a pipeline, and the Williams Partner's representatives insistence that their concerns are all much ado about nothing. Perhaps Schwartz' response would be that journalistic integrity requires "balance," but the truth is that "balance" too often acts as cover for "down-play," "diminish," and "render forgettable."But this hearing was far from forgettable. In fact, the impassioned, articulate comments of an increasingly well-schooled citizenry about all things fracking--including high pressure monster pipeline--should put Williams, FERC, and your local parochial newspaper on notice.

And that's what get's me to observation (2), the rather astonishing events after the hearing.

I just happened to be at the Turkey Hill Brew Pub (an excellent local micro-brewery and restaurant) right after the FERC dog-n-pony show. 

There sat the whole Williams Schmooze-Crew, yucking it up, downing their micro-brewskis, swilling away on the company dime (money extracted--quite literally--from folks who stand to lose their land)--right after an entire evening of listening to the absolutely wrenching stories of folks who Williams is about to screw. 

To be clear, I'm not suggesting that the Williams' paid Schmoozers were laughing AT these folks; but I AM suggesting that this behavior speaks volumes to the sheer callousness and utter disregard of Williams Partners--a company who hires these well-paid snake-oil sales men and women to lie straight-facedly to folks about their objectives, about everything from property values to potential water and air pollutants to property values. 

These are folks who  lie to your face, and then sit bored but pretending to listen to your  fears. They actively participate in the destruction of your land, your water, your quality of life--and that of your neighbors--and then go order a steak and a brewski, yucking it up like they didn't even know they just fucked you over. And they do it all for the money--like that somehow justifies extortion. And while they're yucking and drinkin,' some of their corporate kin are busy sneaking onto your land--trespassing--in order to complete the surveys they have to get done in order to get the fake-FERC environmental impact statement drafted so that they can get on with the theft of your property, the potential wreckage of your land, the contamination of your well, and perhaps most important the complete annihilation of your quality of life and peace of mind.

If you think this sounds like hyperbole, let me recommend the Williams' record of accident and environmental violation--with perhaps special attention to the human deaths:

1. 2008 – Natural gas explosion in Virginia [Transco] the blast ripped a 32-foot section of pipe from the ground and caused a 1,100 feet burn zone. Property
damage reported to exceed $3 million.

 2. 2010 – Transco Pipeline leak in Texas. Leak was not reported for 4 days. The 1/4 inch diameter leak caused a reported $57,000 in property damage. Aerial patrol did not see the leak. Found by an operator who saw some bubbles.

3. 2010 / 2011– FINED $275 Thousand over failing to implement and/or maintain storm water measures to prevent potential pollutants during plannedconstruction in Parachute, Colorado. State inspectors notified Williams (Bargath) inNov. 2010 of violations and told them to take immediate action. According toreport, Williams did not fix violation for 7 months.

 4. 2013 (Jan) – Williams discovers leak of NGLs in Parachute plant while working on construction to expand the plant. Reports say the leak was found by ACCIDENT. Leak stopped, but Benzene, a cancer causing agent, has contaminated soil. Williams says leak not affecting creek. (March 15) – Groundwater in Parachute is contaminated with Benzene from NGL leak. Spill finally announced to public. Benzene is cancer-causing agent that breaks down bone marrow.

 5. 2012 – Gas leak caused explosion at Natural Gas Compressor Station inPennsylvania. Williams restarts the station within 24 hours and started pumping fracked gas despite request from PA Dept. of Environmental Protection not to do so. DEP states they make it very clear on the above matter but because it was not an official order no fines were issued. 1 ton of Methane released.

6. 2013 (April) – Williams say faulty pressure gauge cause of leak in Parachute. Diesel found at gates of Parachute water supply. Benzene detected in creek. State Health Dept takes over oversight of leak. (8) (9) (May) – Benzene levels rise in Parachute, CO creek. State agency tells Williams violated it the law. (8). Williams announces it will not expand the Parachute, Co plant expansion NOT because of the NGL leak but due to low gas prices.

 7. 2013 (June 13) – Williams’ Natural Gas Liquid (NGL) cracker plant that process NGLs in Louisiana. Explodes and Burns. That chemical plant was in middle of $350 million expansion. 700 contract workers were present; 2 people killed (ages 29 & 47); 70 injuries; 62,000 pounds of toxic chemical released.

 8. 2014 (May 14)A probe into safety practices at pipeline operator Williams Cos. (WMB) is being expanded after a natural gas plant fire led to the evacuation of a town in Wyoming last month, the company’s third accident in a year… In December, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Williams for six safety violations at the Geismar plant and proposed a $99,000 fine.

In light of this record, and in plain view of the people who, as activist John Trallo pointed out at the FERC hearing, came not because they were paid but because they are terrified at this direct threat to their properties and welfare, it seems to me like the paid Williams' Schmoozers could at least have had the courtesy to slink quietly back to their hotel rooms at the local Hampton Inn and order take out. 

Photo Wendy Lynne Lee

But they--like the construction crews that will follow if we don't stop the pipeline--don't have to care.

8.7.14: The Press Enterprise, reporter Susan Schwartz 

BLOOMSBURG — Federal regulators came to the area Wednesday to gather public input on a proposed new pipeline, but many of those who spoke called the session a farce.
“Don’t be fooled,” Wendy Lynne Lee told about 120 people who showed up for the meeting organized by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission at Haas Auditorium at Bloomsburg University. “This is a dog and pony show; it deserves to be treated as such.”
Photo Wendy Lynne Lee
 The crowd applauded.
The commission must give its blessing before the $2.5 billion project can go forward.
 But several residents said they didn’t have enough information to make meaningful comments on the plans of Williams Partners, which is applying to build the pipeline.
Still, all the members of the public who took to the podium said they were opposed to the new 178-mile section of the Transco line, which would cut lengthwise through Columbia County on its journey from the gas-rich Marcellus Shale to Georgia and Alabama. 
‘Only here to advocate
Dave Laidacker started things off, angling the podium so it faced the crowd as much as it faced the officials.
 “They’re only here tonight to advocate for Williams, not the citizens of Columbia County,” he contended.
Not so, said Jennifer Kerrigan, FERC’s environmental project manager.
FERC has turned down applicants before, she said. But more often, she says companies drop out before completing the application process.
The Army Corps of Engineers, state agencies and the public will all have a chance to bring up problems, said Kerrigan. That includes everything from concerns about water and air safety, archeological significance, and social impact to whether the exact path of the pipeline will interfere with future plans for building a chicken coop — a concern brought up by one man during an earlier session. 

No public maps
 But several speakers said Williams’ reluctance to publicly release the exact path of the line made it hard to bring up specific concerns.
Montour Township Supervisor Joe Harvey said he called the company six times seeking a map he could take back to his board, but it was never turned over.
On Wednesday, the company put out books of detailed maps showing where the pipe would go, showing the landowners for each parcel along the way. But residents were told they couldn’t get copies, though they could photograph them. The plans were still in flux, and officials didn’t want to give the impression there was a final path, said Williams staffers.
 Water concerns
Peter Tipka of Bear Gap said the proposed path would split his 35-acre parcel, making it harder for him to subdivide it and sell it.
 The farming he does there now would be disrupted, he believes. So would the scenic beauty of the land.
He also pointed to the Aqua Pennsylvania water plant, located close to the proposed pathway. An accident would endanger the water for everyone supplied by the plant, he said. 
Marianne Zenyuch, who chairs Cleveland Township’s planning commission, said the rough plans cut through her municipality’s most densely populated area — precisely where officials want to encourage future growth.
 And that’s not the only problem.
“Our township is 100 percent well dependent,” said Zenyuch. If the gas line breaks or leaks, she said it could contaminate groundwater.
 ‘Stand in solidarity’
Bob Webber worried a pipeline 600 feet from his house would endanger him and his wife. It could also raise his insurance premiums while cutting his home’s value by up to 40 percent, he said.
 Williams says the project would provide enough gas for 7 million homes.
But resident Lee said the new line wouldn’t necessarily help local people; plans include hooking it up to facility at Cove Point, Md., where the gas could be liquefied and sent overseas.
 Rob Krenz, a project manager for Williams, said the way the line is constructed, no more than 20 percent of the gas could be sent to Cove Point.
That didn’t convince Dean Marshall of Benton Township. Gas companies are bragging to shareholders about new contracts with Asian companies, he said.
Several people used the forum to protest against fracking, the controversial drilling method being used to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale.
Kevin Heatley, a restoration ecologist from Bloomsburg, said regulators should consider if the gas the lines would transport could be replaced with solar power or other environmentally friendly resources.
 He urged the audience to rally together to fight the line.
“Do not sign a lease,” he said. “Stand in solidarity. Make it so expensive, they can’t get this done.”
Residents have until Aug. 18 to turn in their comments to the commission, although FERC officials said they would accept statements afterward as well. A second public comment period will open after the commission issues its draft environmental impact statement.
Comments may be submitted online in the eComment site at www.ferc.govunder the “Documents and Filings link.” They can also be mailed to Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 888 First St. NE, Room 1A, Washington, DC 20426.
All comments should include the pipeline docket number, PF14-8-000.

For photographs of some of the maps available at the scoping hearing--particularly maps of the proposed compressor stations, please see: Williams partner's maps: Atlantic sunrise pipeline, columbia county, pa - an album on Flickr


Wendy Lynne Lee

I have a simple and clear message for landowners who’ve been approached by a landman contracted by Williams Partners for the construction of the Atlantic Sunrise Expansion of the TRANSCO: If you have not allowed a survey, don’t. If you have allowed a survey, but have not signed a contract, don’t. If you catch a Williams agent trespassing on your property, call the police immediately. You have nothing to gain by allowing Williams on your property—and very much to lose. Indeed, even if FERC grants Williams a permit to construct the 177 mile, 30-42 inch high pressure natural gas pipeline, and with it the option to utilize eminent domain toward the theft your property, you have no more to lose than if you took a principled stand and fought. 

Photo Wendy Lynne Lee

I say “theft” because there’s no good argument to be made that the Atlantic Sunrise constitutes a public utility. It does not. Williams’ objectives include power plants and distribution lines—and ultimately LNG export to the global markets from points such as the highly contested Dominion facility proposed for Cove Point, Maryland.  

A public utility is defined in terms of its performance of a vital public service that is expensive to produce and requires the maintenance of its infrastructure. While it may be publicly or privately owned, it is regulated for the performance of that service. Williams can make no such claim for the Atlantic Sunrise.

Let me be very clear here: just because Williams can claim to have extensive investor commitments from shale gas producers does not imply that this pipeline is necessary to serve a public interest. Indeed, it is necessary only to the shale gas producers who need the pipeline to advance their own private profit ventures. So unless we are willing to redefine a public utility in terms of what serves the private interests of shale gas producers and their affiliated companies, Williams simply cannot defend this claim—particularly since many of these producers are themselves aimed at global export of LNG.

Photo Wendy Lynne Lee
We also have very little reason to have confidence in FERC with respect to the Notice of Intent to which we are invited to comment here.

First, FERC has repeatedly refused to address the full cumulative impacts of expanding interstate transmission pipelines.  Quoting from the Delaware River Keeper: “On June 6, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the FERC environmental review of Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s reconstruction project was impermissibly segmented and failed to adequately address the cumulative impacts of the project. The Court concluded that FERC thus violated federal law requirements governing environmental review.” But FERC has a history: August 4th, 2014, the EPA found FERC draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the Corpus Christi Liquified Natural Gas facility, Sabine Pass, Louisianna equally remiss: “EPA’s review identified a number of potential adverse impacts to aquatic resources, air quality, environmental justice populations, and wetlands.” The failure is the same—inadequate evaluation of potential cumulative impacts.

In other words, FERC acts precisely in the interest if the industry that funds it—the fossil fuel extraction industry. By failing to aggregate impacts, by segmenting the natural gas extraction, transport, and liquifaction processes, FERC relieves itself the responsibility of having to consider the full weight of the impacts on the ecologies, nonhuman animal, and human populations affected by that industry. It’s no wonder that FERC finds itself rubber-stamping permits once the minimum EIS requirements are met.

Photo Wendy Lynne Lee

But “minimum” does not mean adequate, and as restoration ecologist Kevin Heatley and I recent argued, FERC’s failure to aggregate impacts, conduct meaningful alternatives analyses, consider the full impacts of forest fragmentation, provide for adequate invasive species control, and FERC’s willingness sanction the industry’s claim to “temporary work space,” even when that work space drags on for years at great ecological and human cost is simply unacceptable.

My message to landowners:

You cannot trust an industry who is willing to take by theft what you will not forfeit to their efforts to manipulate, extort, and threaten you, your neighbor, tour community.

You cannot trust elected representatives who do not bother to take a public stand in the defense of their county and/or township constituents.

You cannot trust an agency—FERC—who is funded by the industry it purports to regulate—but demonstrably does not, who will grant the right of eminent domain to what is not a public utility, and whose consistent failure to consider the aggregate impacts consequent upon all fossil fuel extraction contributes to accelerating climate instability.

June, 2013, Fire Williams Compressor,
Branchburg, NJ, 13 injured, two killed.

 Don’t be fooled. This is a dog and pony show and it deserves to be treated as such.

With derision. And with resistance.

Wendy Lynne Lee, Professor
Department of Philosophy
Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania


Anonymous said...

Live in cleveland township id there a compressor station going in our township, they ever come on our farm i will rain hell down on them. I consider it a harmful threat to my life. All in the name of greed. These people will posion there first born for money

Wendy Lynne Lee said...

Have you been asked to allow a survey? I