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Ithaca man reveals spills along Dominion pipeline route


Walter Hang, of Ithaca-based environmental research group Toxics Targeting.
(Photo: Nick Reynolds / Staff Photo

A series of petroleum spills along the proposed Dominion New Market Pipeline — including two in the Town of Dryden dating back to the 1990s — could threaten to derail the entire $158 million project, a local activist said.

With days left in the pipeline's public comment period, Walter Hang, president of Ithaca research group Toxics Targeting, said Friday he believes a number of petroleum spills at several transmission stations along the pipeline's route from Horseheads to Schenectady could put the project in jeopardy due to a violation of the Clean Water Act.

A full listing of the spill locations and the nature of each spill can be found here.

While Hang said the spills that occurred on the sites have not been cleaned up and don't meet cleanup standards imposed by the DEC.

Dominion Transmission said it has no sites in New York State needing cleanup — even those inherited by CNG — and they "disagreed with (Hang's) contention the sites weren't cleaned up properly," said Dominion spokesman Frank Mack.

"It would be Dominion's responsibility for making sure we're up to code," Mack said. "From our perspective, we've worked with the New York DEC and all issues have been accounted for."

Dominion Transmissions released this statement:

The New Market Project is a New York project that would be built by New York contractors for New York customers. The project will serve National Grid and the growing need to supply natural gas to its customers both in upstate New York and downstate New York. New York localities will benefit from the local property taxes of about $66 million over a 15-year term, based on the value of the infrastructure investment.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the project April 28, 2016, after 23 months of evaluating all environmental, health and safety concerns associated with the project. This approval confirmed the conclusions from the FERC’s environmental assessment, finding that the project would not have any significant impact on humans or the environment.

Citing spills from as long ago as the early 1990s, Hang noted the causes of the contamination at the pipeline's transmission sites across the state are varied. Penalties were never recommended when the spills occurred. Some were caused by human error, such as an overfilling of a tank while others, Hang said, were due to aging infrastructure, naming rupturing of pipes and tanks as some causes.

"Everything you can imagine could go wrong with these pipelines does go wrong," Hang said.

Hang said he believes the new information could prompt the denial of the project's Section 401 Water Quality Certification under the Clean Water Act, which mandates it is unlawful to discharge any pollutant into navigable waters.

The former CNG Transmission Station on Ellis Hollow Creek Road, now owned by Dominion. The station has been the site of a petroleum spill of unknown scope, according to new data.
(Photo: NICK REYNOLDS / Staff Photo)

Earlier this spring, the state Department of Environmental Conservation rejected water quality permits for the Constitution natural gas pipeline that would stretch 124 miles from Pennsylvania and into Broome, Chenango and Delaware counties in the Southern Tier, ending in Schoharie County, 80 miles southwest of Albany.

The project "fails to meet New York state’s water quality standards," the DEC said in a statement issued in April.

The Constitution Pipeline is appealing the decision in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

"That 401 cannot be granted by the EPA unless it can be proven the project will not cause groundwater contamination," Hang said of the proposed Dominion Pipeline. "We have a situation where this is an existing pipeline and obviously the state has been unable to prevent these problems or clean that up, a critical part of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's conditional approval."

Residences within the vicinity of the former CNG Transmission station on Ellis Hollow Creek Road rely on well water, Hang noted. Threats to the drinking water supply were predicted to be minimal in Hang's report of the pollution's impacts acquired through a Freedom of Information request from the EPA. However, he said some wells in the area could be susceptible to contamination as the spills miss clean up standards and are unknown in terms of scope.

The site also borders a wetland, which Hang said would contribute greatly to its consideration of 401 approval.

Over the years, the criteria for meeting clean-up standards have become more stringent than they have in the past, he said.

With conditional approval from the Federal Energy Commission already in hand and the pipeline's infrastructure already complete save for two compression stations to be built and one to be improved, Dominion's New Market project will add 33,000 hp of compression power to its pre-existing six state network of natural gas pipelines .

Hang's group is working to compile signatures to present to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office before the public comment deadline ends, which is Aug. 5.

Dominion acquired the sites to be used in the pipeline — along with the existing right of way — from CNG when it purchased the company in a $6.3 billion deal in 1999. The spill documented at the Ellis Hollow Creek Road site was reported the previous August and since, has not been cleaned up and its scope, uninvestigated, Hang said. According to recordings with the DEC, the spill recorded at the CNG transmission station was only about 1 gallon.

In an additional statement by Dominion, the company said all incidents in question are classified as “closed” by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and for all reportable spills, Dominion Transmission notifies the DEC within the required time frame and thoroughly evaluates and cleans up the spill. As of now, the company has "no outstanding site remediation or clean-up projects in New York State," the statement said.

A map of the Dominion New Market Pipeline, detailing upgrades needing to be made along the route. (Photo: DOMINION)