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Chelsea Residents Fear Explosions, Toxins From New Pipeline

By Mathew Katz | March 8, 2013 8:55am

CHELSEA — A huge new pipeline that will pump natural gas to New York City has residents fearing an explosion.

The infrastructure will be built by Houston-based Spectra Energy and will be mostly in the Village, where Community Board 2 voiced its opposition to the project last year

At a Community Board 4 meeting on Wednesday, members concentrated on a segment of the project on 10th Avenue between Gansevoort and West 15th Streets, slamming Spectra and ConEd for not demonstrating the safety of the system.

"We are in a learning mode with the Spectra pipeline and the ConEd pipeline," said Maarten de Kadt, co-chairman of the board's Waterfront, Parks and Environment Committee.

"We don't know enough to say that ConEd's system is safe."

The board voted to write a letter demanding ConEd regularly test for contaminants in its gas, disclose its findings and begin an aggressive effort to develop alternative energy sources.

ConEd officials said much of its infrastructure in the area where the pipeline will connect to its gas system was only 10 years old, but neighbors said many of the gas distribution pipes in Chelsea are more than a century old, leading to frequent leaks and other problems.

“There’s not one week of the month that we do not have a ConEd truck on my block," said Deley Gazinelli, a Chelsea resident since 1987.

"They say they’re there because the infrastructure is over 100 years old and they have to come every week to fix a problem.”

Work has already begun on the pipeline, which will stretch roughly 20 miles from Linden, N.J. to Manhattan, bringing ConEd's system an abundant new source of natural gas from Marcellus Shale.

After it's completed in November, it will bring in 800 million cubic feet of gas every day, according to Spectra. A spokesman for ConEd said the company has seen much more demand for natural gas in recent years, since it is cheaper and cleaner than heating oil.

But residents frequently drew parallels with the deadly explosion of the San Bruno pipeline in 2010, which happened in a San Francisco suburb. That pipeline was built in the 1950s and was incorrectly inspected.

The pipeline will be 42 inches and 30 inches in diameter, corrosion-resistant and made of high-grade carbon steel to ensure safety.

Bob McGee, a spokesman for ConEd, said their systems in Manhattan are continually tested for leaks and other problems.

"Obviously safety is the first priority with the operation of any natural gas system," he said.

"We do monitor our system closely and we have a number of different ways to monitor it."

Bill Borock, president of the Council of Chelsea Block Associations, said he was upset that the board's letter was not strong enough.

"We know alternative energy is a good thing," he said. "But if something happens, all the monitoring won't be worth anything."

Spectra did not respond to requests for comment.

Opponents of the system say explosions are not the only risk. They argue that Marcellus Shale gas is high in radon, a chemical element that can cause lung cancer. Both the board and locals demanded greater testing of the gas for radon, as well as public disclosure of any tests.

"There hasn't really been a peer-reviewed study, so we don't really know how much radon is in there," said Clare Donohue of the Sane Energy Project, which opposes the development of shale gas.

"If ConEd is going to sell us this product, they need to be able to guarantee that it's safe."