Bearing signs and wearing matching t-shirts, union workers vastly out numbered Bayonne residents at the Oct. 18 public hearing of the Federal Regulatory Commission (FERC) over the natural gas pipe line being proposed by Spectra Energy.
While the audience had a number of people opposed to the pipe line, only a handful braved the jeers of the union members to actually voice their opinion.
More than 100 union construction workers filled the back of the room at the at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Avenue C in a well-organized demonstration for support, urging federal officials to approve the project because of the desperate need for jobs in the area.
Some opponents of the pipe line who declined to speak at the public session said they were puzzled by the union support because most people had a problem with the route of the pipe line, but not the project.
“These guys are going to get jobs no matter what route the gas line takes,” one person said.
“You’re telling us this is project is safe, but didn’t they say the same thing about the Titanic?” -- Pat Graham
Although four members of the City Council attended the public hearing, none of them spoke for or against the proposed pipe line, although Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith and City Council members have protested the original route in writing. Since then, the city and Spectra have worked to change the route of the pipe line so that it will no longer pass through any residential property.
“We’ve worked with Spectra to change the route so that it will not go through residential property,” said Business Administrator Steve Gallo during a later interview. “While we’re still looking over the situation to make certain that it is done safely, we are satisfied that the line will go through industrial areas in Bayonne.”
FERC officials indicated that a draft of the Environmental Impact Statement of the New Jersey-New York Expansion Project, or "Spectra Pipeline," shows that Spectra’s plans do not have an adverse environmental impact in Bayonne.
Gas will go to New York City
The proposed interstate pipe line would bring a greater supply of natural gas to New York City by going through portions of Bayonne and Jersey City. While local residents and officials can submit comments to the FERC, there is no local control over the project.
The pipe line would be 30 inches in diameter, and Spectra hopes to get the permits in place early in 2012.
If approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the proposed pipe line would include the construction and operation of 19.8 miles of new and replacement pipe line, six new metering and regulating stations, and other modifications in Linden, Jersey City near the Hoboken border, and Bayonne.
The pipeline would then cross the Hudson River into New York to connect the company’s existing pipe line infrastructure in the region to Manhattan and Staten Island to supply gas to Con Edison customers.
While union representatives and Spectra officials have called this “the safest gas line in America,” for some it is a matter of local control. Some residents said they have no real voice in the decision-making process, and can’t rely on elected officials to do more than submit comments to the FERC, in whose hands the fate of the project lies.
Charles Kratovil of Food & Water Watch, a national consumer advocacy organization, pointed out that FERC has only 110 inspectors nation-wide, which means that promised inspections will rely on the gas company, not on federal regulators.
Representatives from Chevron, which owns property through which the line will run, and from Kaplan Industries objected to the route and schedule of the project, saying that Spectra would not alter the route even though it will interfere with plans to do an environmental clean up of a portion of the Texaco Redevelopment zone, a 65-acre site near the foot of the Bayonne Bridge.
Clara Baker of Chevron said the proposed route of the gas pipe line goes directly through the Texaco property and threatens some of the environmental improvements already made.
Kaplan, whose company is in charge of the redevelopment and clean up of the site, said the route and the timing of the pipe line’s construction are problematic, since the route goes through the most contaminated part of the property at a time when Kaplan is scheduled to do clean up there. He said his company has talked to Spectra about changing the route, but has not yet been successful in this effort.
Several residents of the area spoke, expressing concerns over the route.
Pat Graham said she had a genuine concern about safety.
“You’re telling us this project is safe, but didn’t they say the same thing about the Titanic?” she said.
While local union officials said an explosion elsewhere in New Jersey two years ago was due to a criminal act, not the construction, Kratovil said a similar pipe line in California also exploded.
Not all local residents are opposed to the project
Diane Walsh, representing a state-wide business coalition, said the project would provide tax revenues to the area and would provide a needed economic stimulus to the community.
“This is going to be 100-feet below ground,” she said, emphasizing the lack of risk to the community.
Joseph McNamara, representing a business group, also supported the project and its positive economic impact.
“Spectra had done a remarkable job to minimize any impact to the local community,” he said.
Washington Flores said he supports the project because it is an interim step that may allow the United States to eventually reduce its dependence on foreign oil and gas.
Frank Hoffmann, a member of the construction union, said the gas from this pipe line would be used to help generate power for electrical plants, reducing the use of more polluting coal.
“There is no fracking in this project,” he said.
But Kratovil said he expects this gas, which will be generated from extremely controversial fracking techniques elsewhere the country, may wind up being exported and not used in the U.S. at all.
Fracking is deep-shale natural gas drilling using a high-pressure injection of water, sand, and chemicals to release the trapped gas. The practice of hydraulic fracking has come under scrutiny internationally due to concerns about environmental and health safety, and has been suspended or banned in some countries.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.