UPDATED!! Unholy Alliance Puts the Mark on Marc 1 Pipeline
It has been clear for a few months now that anti-gas forces have shifted strategy away from their failing attack on hydraulic fracturing, which the public is not buying, to new tactics. These include; a) intimidating municipalities and encouraging them to enact Potemkin laws that delay natural gas drilling, and b) attacking pipeline, compressor and storage projects on which natural gas development is dependent. The latter is exemplified by the recent assaults on the Marc 1 Pipeline project. Not only are the usual suspects involved, but also the EPA Philadelphia Regional Office, which has been decidedly anti-gas under current leadership.
The Marc 1 Pipeline is a proposed 39-mile pipeline in Bradford, Sullivan and Lycoming Counties, Pennsylvania, for which Central New York Oil and Gas Company (a subsidiary of Inergy) is seeking regulatory approval from the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC). The FERC staff has developed an extensive 300-page Environmental Assessment of the project and concluded “approval of the proposed project, with appropriate mitigating measures, would not constitute a major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.” This document has been open to public comment and the uncanny parallels between the actions of anti-gas forces and the EPA suggest there is a coordinated move by this unholy alliance to torpedo the Marc 1 project.
The anti-gas strategy is typical of what we have seen elsewhere. They attempt to overwhelm the system with thousands of form letters gathered from urban areas completely unaffected by the project (except, of course, that these city people are the ones who benefit most from the inexpensive natural gas the project would gather). The Earthjustice group (still another entity funded by the Ithaca based Park Foundation) submitted nearly 22,000 nearly identical form letters requesting a full environmental impact statement (EIS) via an internet campaign. None of the individuals on whose behalf the form letter was submitted actually wrote and signed the letter and all but 37 were from folks who lived outside the project area, including residents of 23 (yes, 23) foreign countries. As Central New York Oil and Gas Company (CNYOG) notes, none of the individuals on whose behalf letters were submitted know any more about the project than they read on Earthjustice’s website, which was anything but accurate. Numerous duplicate submissions were made on behalf of single individuals, and many were on behalf of unidentifiable submitters with identifiable interest in the project.
This is the same pattern exhibited in response to the DRBC draft regulations and, unsurprisingly, the same anti-gas forces are involved. Among the commenters on the Marc 1 project are such well known entities as the Delaware Riverkeeper and Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS) both of whom supposedly exist to protect other watersheds. DCS, indeed, made multiple comments, demonstrating its objectives have little to do with the Delaware River or Damascus Township but are intended to support Josh Fox’s mission (Barbara Arindell of DCS is listed in the Gasland credits and produced a rather ridiculous “rebuttal” to Energy In Depth’s debunking of that sordid enterprise). Other submissions come from the Sierra Club, Trout Unlimited and the Coalition For Responsible Growth And Resource Conservation. You can guess what they said.
Nothing these groups do is ever a surprising. They are utterly predictable and follow the same “Hysterical Reaction and How to Produce It” playbook every time they go on the field. What is surprising (less so recently) is when the EPA joins in the fun and parrots their lines, as if it was part of the team. The EPA’s Philadelphia Regional Office submitted comments to FERC on the Marc 1 project, after earlier requesting a 90-day extension of the comment period (an all too typical tactic of anti-gas forces) that FERC honored to the extent of 45 days. The EPA comments, submitted at the very end of the process to gain maximum press coverage), are anything but professional.
Incredibly, the EPA actually cites Earthjustice’s complaints and then gives them credence by suggesting that groups 20,000+ comments was evidence of “public controversy” indicating need for an EIS. Here is the relevant excerpt (emphasis ours):
The rationale goes on to suggest that many of the over 500 public comments raised prior to release of the EA were raised in opposition to Marcellus Shale development in general, and not to the MARC I Pipeline itself, and that opposition to the proposed pipeline does not render the action controversial for NEPA purposes. We find this rationale to be unconvincing. While we understand the explanation FERC offers, EPA believes that there are enough environmental and public health issues of concern and significant public interest, and arguably public controversy, as evidenced by the content of the public comments mentioned above, in addition to the 20,000 or more comments already submitted since release of the EA, to warrant such an approach (i.e., preparation of a full EIS).
The EPA evidently believes any complaint about natural gas development is a basis for delaying and studying to death a natural gas pipeline and 20,000 form letters generated by computer from an anti-gas website are evidence enough of public controversy to trigger an EIS. All Earthjustice has to do is ask its members to make 3-4 keystrokes and we have a controversy of merit? Are you kidding? Talk about manipulation! It’s easy to dismiss the juvenile campaigns of the anti-gas groups to produce numbers. Unfortunately, here we have an ultra-powerful Federal agency giving them credence, which says a lot about the maturity of the agency itself. Worse, the EPA wants to use them to pull FERC into the trap of turning what is supposed to be an evaluation of the pipeline into an evaluation of Marcellus Shale development as a whole – on a cumulative basis.
The emphasis on cumulative impacts is no small thing and explains why the Delaware Riverkeeper and the DSC are so interested in this project. They desperately want to gain to bog down Marcellus Shale development in a cumulative impact analysis that will slowly strangle it. This has been their pitch all along with the DRBC and the Marc 1 pipeline is simply a target of opportunity, even though it lies while outside the Delaware River watershed. If they can establish this principle somewhere, it can be used as a delaying tactic everywhere. Sensible people know cumulative impact studies are nothing but mindless speculation based on current technology and know geology. If one had been 2-3 years ago, for instance, it would have been based on 160 acre drilling units and estimated four times as much land disturbance as will take place with the 640 acre units now being employed. Such studies are pointless for everyone except committed opponents. What’s really needed is continuous impact analysis that allows the process to be constantly improved.
EPA also states “cumulative impacts on important resources are likely to occur from construction and operation of gas extraction related facilities (e.g., access roads must be improved to accommodate heavier truck and equipment traffic).” So, the evaluation of a pipeline, by this criteria, must encompass a study of the impacts on roads from gas drilling in the region the pipeline will serve. It’s as if we had to evaluate the impacts of immigrants seeking jobs in America before we could erect the Statue of Liberty because the latter might encourage the former. This is nothing more than bureaucratic slight of hand to hide the fact EPA wants to control everything (and I meanEVERYTHING) and some people want it that way.
Notice also how the Earthjustice form letters all emphasize cumulative impacts and other points raised by the group could almost be the outline of the EPA comments. The language is similar and the emphasis is almost identical, suggesting to anyone familiar with the way these things happen that there may have been cooperation of some sort between Earthjustice and EPA’s Philadelphia Regional Office. There at least appears to be an unholy alliance of hard-core environmentalists within both EPA and Earthjustice (which is a frequent ally of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the force behind so many anti-gas initiatives).
Regardless, such discussion misses the larger point – that the EPA is trying to not so gently shift the debate from the project to the industry, which is a tactic of the anti-gas groups. The project is a pipeline and not the development that necessitates it. One can argue pipelines are a prerequisite of drilling or vice-versa but to suggest every project bears the burden of justifying both is to carry analysis to absurd lengths (and beyond its capacity to be accurate) that puts FERC in charge of land use and the types of industry a region shall have. EPA, of course, wants such authority and is trying to secure it by any number of means, but neither Federal agency should ever have it. Land use is matter for the states to decide and, even then, must be constrained by property rights. The EPA comments, if treated seriously, would make every single gas-related project requiring Federal permits a donnybrook debate on the Marcellus Shale, fossil fuels and the like. It’s exactly what anti-gas groups want and EPA is indirectly (we hope it’s only indirectly) colluding with them to bring it about. As sad as this is, it does appear FERC, at least, is acting responsible and will not be swayed by such tactics. One can only hope.
UPDATE I: Someone just sent us a link to a long story about this issue on something called Press Action. This is a website devoted to every leftist cause imaginable, so the fact they sided with Earthjustice was no surprise. We were also not surprised they described the astroturfed pushbutton internet campaign as a “firestorm of protest.” These are tactics of environmental extremists and we’ve become used to them. What DID surprise us was the not so subtle appeal to violence in the very last paragraph when the said:
“Or some anti-natural gas industry activists, frustrated with the federal government disenfranchising them from the process, may decide to embrace various forms of direct action to stop natural gas development.“
This is the level to which our opponents are now descending – if they cannot win honestly through the normal courses of action, they are quite willing to go to “direct action,” code for violence and other forms of not so civil disobedience.