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FERC OK's Shale Gas Line To New York, New England

Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline map

Federal energy regulators have approved a $700 million pipeline project designed to ferry cheap Marcellus Shale natural gas from Pennsylvania into high-priced markets in New England and New York. The 124-mile Constitution Pipeline could be operational by next winter.

The project's backers, Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Williams Partners and Houston-based Cabot Oil & Gas, say Marcellus Shale gas is about half the cost of the Gulf of Mexico gas that typically reaches Boston and New York City through the existing pipelines. But not everyone is celebrating, especially in New York, which is still under a de facto fracking moratorium.

John Armstrong is with Frack Action New York.    "President Obama and FERC's approval of the Constitution Pipeline represents a terrible decision and a step far backward on climate change in contradiction to the president's promise to lead on climate change, and also for the health and well-being of New Yorkers and Americans."

Armstrong suggests the presence of the pipeline opens the door to explosions and other potential disasters.

Ithaca College biologist Sandra Steingraber, who has been a leading anti-fracking voice for years, says pipelines are dangerous.  "They lower peoples property values. They create health and safety risks, and of course they further build out fossil fuel dependency at a time of climate emergency, when we need to be dismantling, not increasing our dependency on fossil fuels."

Calls to Williams and Cabot were not returned.  The Constitution plan was formally presented in early 2012, calling for it to run from Pennsylvania's Susquehanna County through New York's Broome, Chenango, and Delaware counties to connect with the existing Tennessee and Iroquois pipelines in Schoharie County, 80 miles southwest of Albany.

Shortly after the project was announced, Delaware County resident Ann Marie Garti argued the pipeline is not needed, pointing out that the gas would likely be sent to foreign markets.  "Williams and Cabot are actually proposing to their investors that the purpose for it is to gather gas along the transmission line, and to sell it overseas."

Central Hudson spokesman John Maserjian says the line has the potential to reduce gas and electricity prices for utility customers.  "We saw prices spike during the polar vortex. One reason we saw that was restrictions in gas supply. An additional pipeline would relieve those restrictions in the pipeline system. But also we would anticipate that a pipeline like this would help lower prices 365 days a year."

Analysts admit precisely calculating the effect the pipeline’s presence will have on home heating prices is difficult.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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