By JOE MAHONEY
The Daily Star
---- — In an auditorium packed with opponents of hydraulic fracturing, Oneonta Mayor Dick Miller drew hoots and boos Wednesday night when he contended there is “no connection” between plans to build the $750 million Constitution pipeline and the controversy over shale gas drilling.
Speaking at the fourth and final federal scoping hearing on the pipeline project, Miller was interrupted several times by jeers as he tried to defend the proposed natural gas transmission system, arguing it has been unfairly entwined with the controversy over hydrofracking.
Urging his hecklers to let him speak, he insisted: “Pipelines are safe — they pose no threats to our lakes.”
Miller, noting he personally opposes fracking, said he backs the pipeline because he believes it will create jobs and make low-cost natural gas available to the region. He also said he believes the pipeline would be “less intrusive” than Interstate 88.
But in the first hour and 40 minutes of the hearing held by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission at Foothills Performing Arts and Civic Center, Miller was the lone voice in favor of the pipeline.
Before numerous landowners who own property that would potentially by traversed by the pipeline argued it would damage the environment and hurt their property values, several local elected officials registered their opposition to the project.
“It may be completely unnecessary to start with,” contended Town of Otsego Board Member Julie Huntsman. She called on FERC to “do due diligence” in examining whether existing pipelines could carry the gas to the locales where the pipeline planners — Williams Partners and Cabot Oil and Gas — say they want to send it: the Boston and New York City markets.
Sharply disagreeing with Miller’s claims, Otsego County Rep. John Kosmer, D-Fly Creek, the new deputy chairman of the county Democratic Committee, told the FERC panel that he sees the project as “inexorably tied to fracking and liquified natural gas export.”
His fellow county Rep. Gary Koutnik, D-City of Oneonta, also argued that FERC should consider the pipeline project as being linked to the energy industry’s appetite for expanded hydrofracking, pointing to statements earlier this year by the chief executive officer of Williams, Alan Armstong.
Armstrong, he noted, was quoted in a Williams press release aimed at the investor community as stating: “We’re putting together the kind of infrastructure that makes drilling in the Marcellus (Shale) even more desirable for producers because we provide large-scale infrastructure solutions that connect producers’ natural gas and natural gas liquids to the best markets.”
The county board that includes Koutnik and Kosmer earlier this month backed a resolution proclaiming support for the economic benefits that the county could accrue if the pipeline were to be partially built in Otsego County near the I-88 corridor. The two opposed the resolution. Two members of the same board who favor the pipeline, Rep. James Powers, R-Butternuts, and Pauline Koren, R-Milford, were in the audience Wednesday nigh but opted not to take advantage of a protocol that allowed elected officials to speak before other citizens.
Milford Town Supervisor Chris Harmon, a Democrat and a farmer who rode into office last year on an anti-fracking platform, told FERC that his town board this month passed a resolution in opposition to the pipeline — even though the proposed pathway would not run through the town.
Darla Youngs, executive director of the Otsego County Conservation Association, urged FERC to consider alternatives to permitting a new pipeline, such as promoting greater development of wind and solar-power projects. She said the federal agency should examine the implications such a project would have on property value and the ability of property owners to to maintain their insurance policies.
Landowner James Baldo of the town of Oneonta said he initially gave his approval to a pipeline representative to conduct a survey of his property after he was told that the line would cross a nearby ridge, but would not dissect his property. However, when he viewed the latest map for the alternative route, he saw that the line was not running across the ridge but cutting through his land.
“It doesn’t seem right that I was misled and misinformed by a representative of the pipeline people,” he said.
Also voicing staunch opposition to the project was Richmondville landowner Kimberly Merenz, who noted she works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture but was not representing that agency. She said installing the pipeline could lead to serious soil erosion and produce groundwater contamination. Merenz also noted that there have been 19 minor earthquakes recorded within a few miles of the site where a related compressor station would be build in the town of Wright, and that the region experienced one earthquake that registered a magnitude of 4.1.
The FERC panel also listened as William Cooke, a Schoharie County hog farmer and activist with Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said the project would end up benefiting energy consumers in China, Korean and Japan at the same time that it is “going to crash our property values.” he also argued the federal agency shouldn’t trust a gas industry that has been cited for hundreds of health, safety and environmental violations in Pennsylvania.
“This is New York — and we will stand and we will fight,” Cooke said.
Another pipeline foe, Barbara Loeffler of Davenport, said the region thrives because of its abundance of clean water. But fracking, she argued, requires the usage of millions of gallons of water.
“Oneonta will be a dust bowl without water,” she said.