A Pipeline May Be Coming, But Not Without Some Controversy

Demonstrators talk to residents outside of the Manny Cantor Center.

Demonstrators talk to residents outside of the Manny Cantor Center.

A small group of environmentalists braved the cold Tuesday night to convince New Yorkers and public advocate candidates to oppose the Williams Transco Pipeline project, a natural gas line that will add more than 23 miles to an existing one between New York and New Jersey, if approved.

The volunteers gathered on the Lower East Side to hand out fliers to people as they entered the Manny Cantor Center for the public advocate’s forum, where candidates for the job of public advocate addressed issues concerning residents. The pipeline project will be up for decision by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation on May 16, and by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which doesn’t have a deadline.

The project reached a major milestone in the federal application process on January 25 when the regulatory commission issued a final “Environmental Impact Statement” on the project concluding the impacts would be reduced to “less than significant levels.”

Environmentalists in opposition to the project disagree with that conclusion.  They say it will exacerbate climate change, as well as negatively affect the health of people and marine life in the area. The proposed pipeline would leak toxins like methane, activists say, that could contribute to global warming and thus increase natural disasters—potentially threatening New Yorkers living in the Rockaways and other low-lying areas.

“It’s a danger to beachgoers,” said Patrick Houston, the climate and inequality campaigns associate of Communities for Change, a non-profit organization. “There are plenty of beachgoers—that go down to Coney Island and to other beaches along the shore in the Rockaways—that are going to be vulnerable to a lot of the toxins.” If the project is approved, Houston said, the construction could disturb old toxins from previous projects that have since settled on the seafloor, which poses a risk to people who swim in the waters nearby the potential construction site.

On Tuesday, activists patiently waited outside of the center hoping they could convince some of the 17 public advocate candidates to oppose the project.


Patrick Houston and Eric Weltman talk to public advocate candidate Melissa Mark-Virverito about the pipeline.

Patrick Houston and Eric Weltman talk to public advocate candidate Melissa Mark-Virverito about the pipeline.

The Williams Northeast Supply Enhancement Project was reintroduced in 2017 to upgrade an existing pipeline that stretches from South Texas to New York City. The expansion would allow the local distributors, such as National Grid, to bring fracked gas—which is gas recovered from the earth—to New York City to provide customers with heat and gas.

In 2014 New York banned fracking, which is the process used to extract gas from the earth that scientist say releases harmful toxins in the air, but the ban doesn’t prohibit companies from transporting fracked gas into the state through pipelines, as the proposed project plans to do.

Key stakeholders argue the project is in line with the city’s clean air goals because, they say, the use of natural gas would help reduce regional carbon dioxide emissions by 5 million tons

In 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio launched the NYC Carbon Challenge—an initiative that seeks to reduce greenhouse gas admissions like carbon dioxide by 30 percent over the next ten years—to help the city reach its overall goal to decrease 80 percent of emissions by 2050.

“Natural gas is a critical component of the mix of energy sources necessary to meet the region’s growing energy needs and to help meet its aggressive clean air goals,” Christopher Stockton, the project’s spokesman said in a statement on January 26, to USA Today. “The project will ultimately enable New York City to reduce local air pollutants by 4,300 tons annually—including smog, acid rain, and particulates that have negative health and environmental effects.”


Correction: Our definition of fracking was incorrect. Fracking is the process which gas is extracted from the earth, not from fossil fuel as we reported. We apologize for the error.