The Danger Next Door: Natural gas facilities present immediate and long-term risks to our communities
Oct 29, 2018 01:18AM
By By Suzannah Glidden and Ellen Weininger
A growing number of Americans realize that the continued extraction, production and distribution of natural gas and oil pollute our air, water and soil while also depleting and contaminating the world’s precious, finite supply of fresh water. “Natural gas” is also known as methane, a greenhouse gas that’s been proven to be 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.
Our region, including Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess and Orange Counties, has become a massive frontline, indeed a prime sacrifice zone, for the reckless perpetuation of fossil fuel use. We are being exposed to unprecedented levels of toxic emissions from natural gas facilities such as gas power plants, gas pipeline valves, compressor stations, and metering and pigging stations that are now operating in our communities, ruining the air we breathe and negatively impacting our health, quality of life and property values. These hazardous pollutants are associated with 19 out of 20 major diseases.
When natural gas is burned, the combination of nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and sunlight produces ground-level ozone, the main ingredient in urban smog. Breathing ozone can trigger harmful health effects, including a racing heart and shortness of breath. Vulnerable populations like young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with chronic lung and heart conditions such as COPD are especially at risk. Ground-level ozone also damages crops, trees and other vegetation.
Beware when bad weather comes, with overcast skies and wind blowing from the direction of one of these facilities. When socked in by clouds, rain or snow, emissions are known to hug the ground instead of dissipating. If you live near a facility, even a few miles away, stay indoors with your windows closed or evacuate the area. Check an online weather station for the wind direction in your area, and recheck hourly.
Be aware, too, that operators of natural gas facilities don’t announce planned “blowdown” events, when extra emissions are vented during maintenance testing. They also don’t send out alerts after emergency blowdowns. In New York State, they don’t do it because they don’t have to. Lax air regulations don’t require them to give blowdown notification, install the best pollution-control technology or implement best practices. Last April, North Salem schools had to cancel all their outdoor sports activities for two days during a blowdown from a metering station about two miles away.
The public must demand change.
The Westchester County Board of Legislators has submitted to Governor Andrew Cuomo recommendations for reducing pollutants and methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. Other New York towns and counties did the same. We must demand that he direct the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to include every one of these carefully designed recommendations in its new oil and gas emissions regulations, which are now under development.
We must also demand that Governor Cuomo direct the Public Service Commission to use its federally granted authority over pipeline safety to immediately suspend gas flow through the Algonquin pipelines at the Indian Point nuclear power plant, which sits near two earthquake fault lines. A potential gas pipeline explosion at this location puts 20 million people within the 50-mile impact radius, including New York City, at unimaginable risk.
The long-delayed state risk assessment of the co-location of the Algonquin pipelines at Indian Point was only recently released—well after the expanded pipeline’s increased gas flow became operational last year. Operations should cease immediately, until all risks are fully addressed and the full risk assessment has been released to nuclear and pipeline experts possessing security clearances.
These natural gas facilities don’t just compromise the safety of our families and neighbors. They threaten the health of our planet. A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts catastrophic devastation and irreversible damage as soon as 2030 if we continue with “business as usual.”
This is an emergency, and we have to treat it like one. Just as our nation ramped up armament production during World War II, we must build up renewable energies and their transmission grid as quickly as possible to save our planet from extinction. At the same time, citizens should push the government at every level to conserve energy and eliminate the use of fossil fuels, especially natural gas, which harms people, wildlife and vegetation. May we prevail in time to rescue our future.
Suzannah Glidden and Ellen Weininger are co-founders of Stop the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion (SAPE). For more information about local efforts to stop the proliferation of natural gas facilities, visit sape2016.org, Blog.ProtectOrangeCounty.org and Facebook.com/StopCricketValley. To learn more about the health impact of natural gas, visit EnvironmentalHealthProject-NY.org.
Trouble at Home
Natural gas plants put the whole earth at risk. But for residents in these New York and Connecticut communities, heavily polluting gas infrastructure facilities make the risk immediate and very close to home:
How to Take Action
Here are two things you can do right now to protect our communities from the hazards of natural gas:
1) Email [email protected] and demand that the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation include in their new emissions regulations for gas facilities the most stringent recommendations submitted by counties and towns.
2) Call Governor Andrew Cuomo at 518.474.8390 and tell him to stop the gas flow at Indian Point, release the full risk assessment to pipeline and nuclear experts with security clearance, implement the more stringent gas emissions regulations recommended by counties and towns, stop approving new gas facilities in New York State, and quickly move the state to 100 percent renewable energy.