By JOE MAHONEY
The Daily Star
---- — In an 11th-hour comment filed with federal regulators, the state Department of Environmental Conservation has called for an assessment of “cumulative environmental impacts” from potential shale gas drilling operations along the route of the proposed Constitution Pipeline.
The official cutoff date for environmentally-related “scoping” comments on the $750 million pipeline project was Friday. However, officials have said the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will continue to accept subsequent letters it receives regarding the natural gas transmission system.
The comment from DEC was sent Wednesday on behalf of the agency by one of its lawyers, Patricia Desnoyers.
Desnoyers stated in her six-page letter that FERC must evaluate “whether the pipeline could reasonably serve as a collector line for additional supply from New York Marcellus and Utica Shale formations.”
Desnoyers went on to note that the planned pipeline route — running from Susquehanna County, Pa., to the town of Wright in Schoharie County — “has the potential for development of natural gas extraction” from both the Marcellus and Utica formations.
One of the organizers of the grassroots group that has formed to fight the project, Anne Marie Garti of East Meredith, said the DEC comment has “huge” implications.
“They have demanded a cumulative impact statement that incorporates a whole buildout of hyrdrofracking throughout this area,” said Garti, a law school student who pressed FERC for the very type of analysis that the DEC now wants the federal agency to conduct.
She pointed out that if the pipeline project moves forward, DEC will be asked to approve several aspects of the pipeline. She said the fact that the agency is now on record as urging FERC to undertake a full review of the environmental impacts of nearby shale gas drilling activities gives the federal regulators little choice but to accede to the state agency’s request for such an evaluation.
The pipeline project has been proposed by Williams Partners and Cabot Oil and Gas, two companies that are currently involved in drilling for shale gas in Pennsylvania. The pipeline planners have insisted that a new transmission system is needed to run through Broome, Chenango, Delaware and Schoharie counties in order to send gas to the Boston and New York City markets. Stop the Pipeline argues that the project is unnecessary because existing pipeline infrastructure could be used to send the gas to those locations.
The comment from the DEC official is being embraced by pipeline opponents because it goes to the heart of one of their central arguments against the project: That the presence of the pipeline will spawn hydrofracking operations along its route.
But Christopher Stockton, the spokesman for the Constitution Pipeline, said the project is not entwined with any hydrofracking plans in New York. “The fact is that natural gas production in New York is still prohibited,” he said when contacted Friday. “Our position has always been and remains that this pipeline is designed to transport gas that is produced in Pennsylvania.
Stockton also noted that the Delaware County Industrial Development Agency has recently come out in favor of the project, joining other supporters such as Delaware Board of Supervisors, the Otsego Board of Representatives and the Otsego Chamber of Commerce.
Among those who have been openly skeptical of the pipeline company’s assurances is Meredith Town Supervisor Keitha Capouya. On Friday, she wrote to FERC, urging the agency to “study carefully all cumulative and indirect impacts of this pipeline, up to and including the complete build-out of gas wells, with particular emphasis on the economic and social effects of the pipeline and possible gas wells on agriculture and tourism.”
While many of us enjoy this balmy autumn weekend, Angelica Palmer of the Cooperstown accounting firm, Green Circle, and James Dean, a Cooperstown village trustee, will be among those traveling to the Rockaways today to deliver supplies to people whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.
Dean said he will drive to Sharon Springs this morning to fill his Chevrolet Yukon with donations collected by Leila Durkin of Village Hall Gallery, then follow Palmer to Oneonta and Franklin were more supplies will be picked up. He said he will rendezvous with his daughter, Janice Dean, a state assistant attorney general, at St. Francis de Sales Church, in Rockaway to help coordinate the delivery of the donations to those in need of them.
James Dean noted that many of the volunteers come out of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has morphed into “Occupy Sandy.”
“They can move supplies very rapidly to where they are needed,” he said of the volunteers. “In many ways, they are better organized than the lead relief agencies. All of these young people have been beat up by the economy. But instead of being bitter, they are out there helping out.”
JOE MAHONEY is a staff writer for The Daily Star. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org