Spectra Pipeline Active, and so are Protesters

Protesters unfurled a banner across West Street and blocked traffic for several minutes before they were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. PHOTO BY SAM SPOKONY

BY SAM SPOKONY  |  A day after the underground Spectra Pipeline began pumping natural gas into Manhattan’s Lower West Side, around 150 residents, environmental activists and elected officials gathered at the site of the pipeline on November 2 to continue their protests against what they consider to be its dangerous impact on the neighborhood.

Thirteen people were arrested after they unfurled a banner reading “Shut Down This Pipeline” across West Street, near Gansevoort Street, and blocked traffic for several minutes around 4pm.

Among those arrested were Corey Johnson and RJ Jordan. At the time of his arrest, Johnson was poised to emerge from the November 5 general election as the new City Council District 3 rep (with Jordan as his chief of staff).

In his role as Community Board 4 Chair, Johnson has frequently spoken out against the pipeline — especially because he and many others have stated that it was installed without the approval or feedback of any local community groups.

“Hopefully we can draw a line in the sand here, because this is not the only pipeline they’re going to try to lay,” said Johnson, in an interview before the protest — which was organized by the activist groups Sane Energy Project and Occupy the Pipeline. “They’re going to try to lay pipeline after pipeline,” Johnson warned, “with fracked gas, with high concentrations of radon, and the public needs to know about this.”

The pipeline transports approximately 800 million cubic feet of natural gas per day, according to the Spectra Energy Corporation, whose headquarters are based in Houston, TX. A spokesperson for the company said that gas flowing through the pipeline will come from wells in the Appalachian Basin in Pennsylvania, the Rocky Mountains, the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Nova Scotia in Canada.

In a statement released on November 1, the day it became active, Spectra CEO Greg Ebel said that successfully completing the pipeline was “a testament to our ability to secure, permit and execute on large and complex growth projects.”

In the same release, Bill Yardley, Spectra’s President of U.S. Transmission and Storage, claimed that people in New York and New Jersey could save $700 million in energy costs per year as a result of replacing fuel oil with the pipeline’s domestically produced natural gas. Spectra also estimates that use of the pipeline’s gas will eliminate approximately six million tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.

“We’ve invested the past five years speaking with stakeholders and officials, planning and re-planning, designing and constructing this pipeline, all to ensure it was completed safely, efficiently and to the highest standards,” said Yardley.

But many residents in the West Village and Chelsea remain unconvinced about the safety of living above the hub for hydro-fracked gas, which is believed by many to contain unsafe quantities of the dangerous chemical radon.

“A big problem for us is that the gas is also coming through the Con Edison pipes, and frankly Con Ed doesn’t have a very good record of maintaining its infrastructure,” said Bill Borock, president of the Council of Chelsea Block Associations, at the November 2 protest. “So in addition to the main problem of whatever toxic chemicals are coming into our homes through the gas, we have the problem of what happens if something goes wrong with the pipeline.

Bill Borock, president of the Council of Chelsea Block Associations, gave a speech at the Nov. 2 protest.  PHOTO BY SAM SPOKONY
Bill Borock, president of the Council of Chelsea Block Associations, gave a speech at the Nov. 2 protest. PHOTO BY SAM SPOKONY

Borock alluded to the disastrous breakdowns in Con Ed’s plants and supply lines during Hurricane Sandy last year, and said he fears the potentially catastrophic result another Sandy-like storm could have on the gas lines.

Other elected officials at the protest included Councilmember and Borough President-elect Gale Brewer, and Assemblymembers Dick Gottfried and Linda Rosenthal.

Rosenthal currently sponsors a bill that would require utility companies across the state to monitor and mitigate radon levels before natural gas is delivered to consumers. The bill was introduced in April, but has not yet reached the floor for a vote.

Councilmember-elect Corey Johnson was one of 13 people arrested at the Nov. 2 protest.  PHOTO BY SAM SPOKONY
Councilmember-elect Corey Johnson was one of 13 people arrested at the Nov. 2 protest. PHOTO BY SAM SPOKONY

Before Johnson prepared to block the street and get handcuffed on November 2, he mentioned a conversation he had that morning with Bill de Blasio, who has had his own experiences with civil disobedience.

“I told [de Blasio] I was going to get arrested today, and he just told me, ‘Be patient, because it can take a while,’ ” said Johnson.

Johnson, along with the dozen other people arrested at the protest, was charged with a violation for disorderly conduct and spent several hours in a holding cell before being released, according to a police source at the Sixth Precinct.

Johnson said that he has not yet had a “substantive conversation” with de Blasio about the Spectra Pipeline — but speculated that once the November 5 general election results are in, “With a Mayor de Blasio, we’ll have someone who actually wants to listen to community concerns on issues like this.”