Dangerous Mishaps During Spectra/Algonquin’s Gas Pipeline Hudson River Crossing
As Spectra/Algonquin rushes to complete the AIM pipeline project to be operational by November 1st, the public is alarmed by numerous mishaps as the company attempts to pull the giant 42” diameter string of welded pipe segments through a reamed bore hole under the Hudson River. Spectra’s attempt to pull the pipe under the river using the controversial horizontal directional drilling (HDD) process failed in late August. The company was issued a “serious violation” by Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) after losing a drill stem in a wetland and proceeding with work there without approval. A three-state coalition submitted a letter to FERC on September 22nd outlining our concerns.
While preparing to once again attempt to drag the pipeline under the river using HDD, Spectra/Algonquin ran into another problem in the same location when re-reaming the hole. Alarmingly, the company was granted a variance by FERC allowing the bore hole to be reinforced with rocks in order to prevent it from caving in. Tina Volz-Bongar of Peekskill asks, “Has the Hudson River bottom been negatively impacted which would be a violation? By Spectra’s own admission, there has been a serious communication gap between Spectra, the agencies and the public.”
The public demands that construction be halted until all federal and state permitting agencies review and comment on the variance that FERC granted to Spectra/Algonquin in order to ensure that environmental and safety issues are fully addressed.
“Why should FERC make a unilateral decision to grant a variance without consulting with the US Army Corps of Engineers, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, US Fish & Wildlife, US EPA, NY Department of State and other Involved Agencies? When Spectra/Algonquin was searching for the lost drill stem, which destroyed a wetland, trees, and potential habitat of endangered bog turtles outside of the approved work area, they failed to notify the US Fish and Wildlife Service in a timely fashion. Why would anyone trust the company to communicate or act responsibly when they have a terrible track record?” said Susan Van Dolsen of Stop the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion (SAPE), one of the groups who sent the September 22nd letter.
The most serious concern is that Spectra stated to FERC that “repairs” were being made to the damaged pipe sections including replacements and re-welding. When the pipe was stuck, pneumatic hammers were used to remove the string of pipeline until it was eventually extracted. Courtney Williams, Vice President of Safe Energy Rights Group (SEnRG) and a Peekskill resident who lives 400 feet from the pipeline said, “What official safety inspections have occurred? Why is damaged pipe being used in this high consequence area, adjacent to Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant? Where is the accounting of which sections have been damaged, what types of damage were done, what repairs were conducted, and what testing has been done to ensure the integrity of the sections and repairs?”
FERC and the involved agencies should insist that Spectra/Algonquin resubmit a detailed plan to pull the pipe through the bore hole that proves to the public and public officials that all safety assessments were completed and verified by Pipeline Hazardous Material Safety Administration and New York State Public Service Commission which is delegated authority to oversee pipeline safety in NYS. This information should be made public and verified by an independent pipeline safety expert.
Suzannah Glidden of SAPE said, “Why is this kind of risky work adjacent to the Indian Point nuclear power plant allowed to occur over weekends when agency personnel and oversight are questionable? Is a second attempt during the second week of October to pull through the string of pipe planned for the weekend? The events following the loss and attempted recovery of the drill stem, the removal of the stuck pipe, and the ways in which the company responded have demonstrated that the company cannot be trusted to follow all environmental and safety regulations and procedures.”
The Hudson River crossing is in a highly sensitive region and there was no contingency plan filed with FERC if the HDD pullback did not succeed. Thus, the company’s actions were motivated by expediency and not by public safety and environmental concerns. Nancy Vann, President of SEnRG, stated "When FERC released the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the AIM project, we objected to the fact that no alternative to HDD was proposed for the Hudson River crossing. Spectra/Algonquin shouldn't be allowed to avoid environmental review by omitting information from the EIS and then getting a variance from FERC with no opportunity for public assessment or comment. That's not the way a regulatory body is supposed to work."
The massive Spectra AIM high-pressure natural gas pipeline next to an aging, troubled nuclear power plant should never have been approved. Another incident occurred at the plant on Friday, a malfunction of one of the turbines that resulted in an oil spill, and Governor Cuomo stated, “Any real problem at Indian Point is one problem too many. This is a nuclear power plant that's located next to a very densely populated area, so we take situations like this seriously."
We urge all of our elected officials to call for FERC to halt construction of this pipeline immediately and to insist that Spectra release its new plan to cross the Hudson River to all federal and state agencies and to the public for environmental review and comment.