When the sun dips below the horizon, we don’t think twice (if even once!) about flipping our light switches on. Our energy usage patterns have become instincts to follow, rather than decisions to consider. What we too often forget in our daily power consumption is that our power isn’t fueled by magic, but environmentally damaging natural gas. Writers for the Constitution Pipeline project – a large-scale endeavor which would funnel fracked natural gas 125 miles from Marcellus Shale, through New York and New Jersey, and into Pennsylvania – expound on the project as a boon for energy consumers in the area. They proudly note that the Shale is “the most abundant and cost-effective gas supply source in the nation,” and further depict the pipeline as a bountiful source of affordable energy for those in the area. The project seems, by their estimation, to be all upsides.
But what about the true cost of our power – the price that isn’t detailed in numbers and dollar signs? As it turns out, Constitution Pipeline has a high environmental cost; according to science writers with the nonprofit organization Riverkeeper, the seemingly laudable project would have transported fracked natural gas across 251 waterbodies and through sensitive ecological spaces such as “old-growth forest and undisturbed springs, which provide vital habitats and are key to the local ecosystems.” The problem with environmental damage is that so much of it is irreversible; we can clear ancient trees to make way for a pipeline, but removing the pipeline won’t bring what we destroyed back. If the pipeline had been built, we could potentially face the destruction of our rivers, streams, and irreplaceable wetland habitats.
Luckily, those aware of the potential damage have acted on their concerns and taken the project to task for its blatant disregard for potential damage. While the Constitution Pipeline received official approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in December 2014, the venture was brought to a standstill in April of 2016 when the Department of Environmental Conservation refused to provide a Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification on the grounds that its administrators “hadn’t addressed the significant water resource impacts the project would bring, nor had it supplied enough information to show compliance with New York State water quality standards.” In May, the project sued the DEC over its decision. Their case was officially dismissed in October by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals with the support of New York-based nonprofit Riverkeeper and Earthjustice.
Our fight isn’t over yet, and we can’t afford to be complacent. Despite their legal dismissal, those behind the Constitution Pipeline still have avenues to push the project forward. Only recently, they filed an official petition with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission “requesting that the agency declare that DEC has waived its right to protect New York State’s water quality from the impacts of the pipeline.” We cannot afford to be complacent; we cannot afford to sit on our hands. Pipelines are used to getting what they want with or without approval; only recently, the Constitution Pipeline faced public backlash for preemptively clearing trees on privately-owned land – before they had their final approvals to do so. They were guarded by armed federal marshals at the time. We need to stand together, and protect our rivers from pipeline intrusion. Cheap power is convenient, yes – but it isn’t worth the slow poisoning of our home.