Opponents of proposed gas line are gathering numbers and making friends in higher places — in government

Several officials from state, county and town governments were in attendance. Some listening in. Some speaking out.

Several officials from state, county and town governments were in attendance. Some listening in. Some speaking out. Photo by Michael Hallisey.

— Local officials have taken up the fight against Kinder Morgan’s plan to run a fracked gas pipeline through town.

All members of Bethlehem Town Board plus Albany County Legislators Bill Reinhardt, Mike Mackey and Joanne Cunningham*, as well as New York Senator Neil Breslin attended a meeting in support of the group Stop New York Fracked Gas Pipeline (SNYFGP) in their efforts to stop a pipeline proposed to run through Bethlehem.

On Saturday, Jan. 23, at 2 p.m. at the First Reformed Church of Bethlehem on Church Road in Selkirk, the officials lent their voice to the issue.

“We’ve heard your concerns and share your larger concerns on fracked gaslines and the incursion on land,” said Supervisor John Clarkson. Though Clarkson admitted he and the Town Board’s legal powers are “no greater than any of yours,” he promised to advocate for measures to be taken at the state level to prevent the new pipeline.

Parts of North Bethlehem and Selkirk as well as New Scotland and Berne will be directly impacted as the proposed pipeline travels 148 miles through New York to transport gas fracked in Pennsylvania to Massachusetts. Future action meetings are planned to be held at the First Reformed Church of Bethlehem, where church leaders have become advocates against the pipeline, as it is proposed to run through church land bordering their cemetery.

“We have existed on this land for over 220 years. This is a place of peace and sanctuary and we would not see that destroyed,” said Deb Weisheit, a member of the church’s governing board, to the large crowd that came out for the meeting.

In 2014, New York State under Governor Andrew Cuomo succeeded in passing a law banning fracking, a process where gas is extracted from shale beneath the Earth’s surface to be converted to oil, from occurring in-state. Yet, the transport of fracked gas is not outlawed in New York, and as the pipeline transverses multiple states, the decision on whether the pipeline will be approved is left to a federal review board, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

According to Kinder Morgan, the largest pipeline company in the country, the 30-inch, 350-mile high-pressure pipeline will reduce oil costs in New England, while delivering “clean, environmentally friendly energy sourced domestically.” The company points to their track record of having no past gas explosions – a fear of those opposed – as a measure of their reliability. As well, gaslines have existed in New York since the early 1950s, and this new pipeline, a massive undertaking that spans five states, sees some of these older lines updated, as well as new routes added.

Those opposed, including a recent Harvard University study, which found two to three times the state-approved levels of methane gas are being inadvertently admitted during fracking, say the chemicals produced as a byproduct of the process are harmful to citizen health, including increased rates of cancer, and to the environment, exacerbating the effects of global warming.

While the company only applied to the FERC in September, they plan to begin construction of the pipeline next year, and have it completed by 2018. Neighbors say this fast start date has led Kinder Morgan to illegally send surveyors to trespass on land the pipeline is proposed to run through. At the meeting, several spoke of their stories of such instances.

Leslie Corey, a resident of the town of Nassua, N.Y., told of two instances, one months ago and one more recently where a surveyor as well as a security person claiming to be a police officer entered her property after she told them several times that they did not have permission to be there and surveyed her land.

“They showed me a tablet showing that they had permission to be there,” she explained, describing the surveyors as two men with machetes. “Get out your deed and make sure you know your property lines. Even if you have given permission for them to be there, you can rescind that by filling out some forms,” she instructed.

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