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Minisink Takes their Fight to New York City

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Democracy

The tastefully blank façade of 780 Third. Tom tilts the bullhorn up toward where the senator’s office might be. He calls the senator by name, speaks against the brand new compressor station in his town. He’s determined to be heard, cogent and unapologetic. Then Asha, the firebrand artist: however exhausting it’s been, whatever the setbacks, she’s still positive and self-possessed. Then Angela Monti Fox – founder of the Mothers Project (website: Mothers for Sustainable Energy, which you can find here) and mother of Josh, director of Gasland I & II (which you can find here) – proudly takes her turn with the bullhorn.

**

They’re here because there’s an outrage in Orange County. Regular people in regular homes, with regular lawns and regular lives. An outrage that’s nearly been wholly accomplished.

**

Minisink has been careful to be respectful and diplomatic, to give no one who might help an excuse to dismiss them. They weren’t planning to use the bullhorn but the other sound system didn’t work. It would have seemed less aggressive.

**

Minisink and their allies have been trying to stop Millennium Pipeline’s plan for 2 long years. They show up where they’re not expected – the senator’s sidewalk, the FERC hearing room in DC – with t-shirts and their children. FERC: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. FERC says yes to what energy companies want 99% of the time. FERC said yes to Millennium’s desires. Minisink got a lawyer and went to court.

**

The outrage? Something seemingly random, a meteorite: wanton boys in suits with a dart and a map. They fought it and couldn’t keep it from popping up out of the ground. Enormous, loud, polluting, smelly and it might explode in a giant fireball. On their regular quiet street, across from where regular children play on regular lawns. But the US Court of Appeals didn’t dismiss their case. Everything’s filed and ready to be considered. The Court hasn’t ever stopped a compressor station once it’s up and running. Theirs could be the first. It’s possible. Otherwise, they’ll take it to the Supreme Court.

**

Of course, it only seems random if it suddenly happens to you. Unless you learned a lot about the natural gas business and its local geography as part of your regular life. If not, you’d never know you were standing in front of a train that doesn’t make a sound. If you knew about the existing pipelines, all the new gas from fracked Pennsylvania, and the assumed-by-industry soon-to-be-flowing gas from soon-to-be-fracked New York, and the unimaginable-to-the-rest-of-us force of all the money at stake, then it’d wouldn’t have seemed even a little random. All that new gas has to get from the fracking fields to the new power plant in Wawayanda! to all those many New York and New England customers! to the soon-to-be-approved export facilities!

Steve Sullivan, Millennium Spokesperson

If you’re the natural gas industry you’d do what makes sense: build a 66 miles worth of new “connector” pipeline from Wantage, NJ through Minisink, up the Wallkill River Valley and underneath the Hudson River from Lloyd to Poughkeepsie (very unlikely anything would go wrong there) and on to Pleasant Valley. Hook it up and all that new gas starts flowing through lots of existing pipe. But all the new gas flowing through the new connector isn’t going to compress itself. Without the compressor station, the $500 million pipeline won’t work. So, it’s Millennium Pipeline’s job to build a compressor station in Minisink. Of course, if you’re already building 66 new miles of pipeline it might seem reasonable to move the compressor site just a few miles away where it won’t endanger and diminish people’s lives as much. Like they were asking you to. 2 out of 5 FERC commissioners thought that would have been just fine and voted against you. But you didn’t like the other site. Because it would’ve cost some money and time? Because you would’ve had to start the permitting process over? For whatever reason. Anyway, this Minisink place’s got what, not even 5 thousand people in it? Shouldn’t be a problem.

**

The nearly completed outrage in Orange County is big in the lives of the people who live there but is nearly invisible as one piece of the enormous and interwoven outrages going on, often invisibly, all around us. Outrages that are only getting worse and bigger and more brazen all the time.

**

I won’t answer all the questions. I’ve written lots of “In case you don’t know what fracking is …” pages, and a couple “Here’s what’s been happening in Minisink … ”. Lots of other people have written them too. And there’s lots of resources about natural gas and pipelines and the like. For example, natural gas accelerates climate change and there’s enough of it for “350 years at 2008 consumption levels.” If you want to learn, there are a lot of ways to get started. There’s links at the end of this.

**

The good people of Minisink gather on the sidewalk. The broad expanse in front of 780 Third Avenue is private property and they’re not allowed. The skinny sidewalk next to 3rd Avenue, that’s city property and they are allowed. Ahead of time, the police have set up steel barricades to separate the two different kinds of sidewalk.

**

K. Gillibrand (D) is a US senator for New York. She’s in Washington. The staffer who talks to Minisink, she’s in Ulster County. Maybe a different staffer will ride the elevator down and speak with these good people of Minisink? Accept their letter to the senator? No one ever does. The letter they didn’t want includes this: “Terrible things are already happening. Alarmingly loud venting releases, putrid odors that hang in the air. Dozens of people are having the same symptoms: nausea, piercing headaches, rashes, dizziness, sore throats. Many are young children. And every parent here is wondering: what are these cumulative toxic releases doing to my children?” There’s a petition you can read and maybe sign here.

You’d think she’d come out to support them, but she hasn’t. She won’t say why. She’s a mother. She’s on the agriculture committee, so you’d think she’d care about all the nearby organic farms, honey producers, vineyards, orchards and dairy farms. She worked with John Feal, first responder, activist and vocal Minisink supporter (his foundation can be found here ), to help pass legislation to care for first responders, so you’d think she’d care. And she’s supposed to be protecting her constituents and standing up for justice. So you’d think. It’s unclear what has trumped all those concerns in her calculations.

**

Some of the rallying children

They’ve come 75 miles. Parents with their kids. Pramilla’s son Sonny brought his cello. He’s going to play a piece his mom describes like this, “it’s Song of the Birds, a Catalonian folk song made famous by Pablo Casals. The idea of the piece is that from high above us, birds can see our tragedies, sing songs of sadness, and try to warn us of our lost humanity.” You can hear the song here.

They brought tables, umbrellas, and what turns out to be a very optimistic number of T-shirts. They were hoping to raise a little money during the rally. The lawyer hasn’t been paid. By an accident of geography, lots of people in NYC’s uniformed services have always lived in Minisink. After ground zero a lot of them developed serious lung diseases. Other first responders moved to Minisink after ground zero, when they developed PTSD, or lung disease, or both. They moved to Minisink for the rural peace and for clean air.

**

 

It was stirring at the first march in Minisink. The drums, the chants of “This is what democracy looks like.” I was stirred.

It’s what democracy looks like only in the sense that people aren’t rounded up and sent to re-education camps. But people march in the streets because democracy has failed them. When obvious injustice is allowed to stand, when government doesn’t defend the regular people, the regular people march in the streets.

**

It was easy to do this to Minisink. It’s like voter suppression. Only takes a minute to change the rules. Do it in air conditioned offices, over the phone and at lunch, on the golf course maybe. And hey, if some people don’t like the new rules, let them do some democracy. They can drive around, find voters with no driver’s license and no birth certificate, and get them to the DMV, which, as a coincidence has, just had its hours cut. How long will it take how many people to do that three-quarters of a million times? Meanwhile, we’ll be changing some other rules. Maybe write us up some legislation.

The same for the people of Minisink, this asymmetry of inconvenience. Drive seventy miles, stand in the heat and the sudden rain. Stand behind steel barricades forty feet from the revolving door and the air conditioning, forty feet from the forbidden realm where the stone desk stares blankly and the sign says no visitors will be admitted if they haven’t been announced.

Everyone who worked to make the compressor station happen – pipeline company people, lawyers, commissioners and judges, the zoning board, the real estate guys – they didn’t bring their kids, didn’t get hot or rained on, and got paid for it. Unsurprisingly, none of the malevolent consequences of the noisy dirty smelly dangerous toxic compressor they’ve been working to bring into existence will affect any of them.

The people whose lives are actually being changed by the compressor deal with it in the free time they don’t have. Fighting against Millennium et al isn’t part of their careers: they already had their work to do. But they’re fighting for their children, their homes, their lungs. And they fight for free. They spend their own money. They’re out in the elements and they’re not invited in.

**

I talk to one of the security guys. He’s seen hundreds of these. He’s leaning against the building: “Doesn’t do any good. Doesn’t do anything. Makes them feel better, that’s all.”

**

Back home, at soccer, at the store, people who marched, who pitched in: “The thing’s already built. It’s up and running and we tried and we lost. Time to move on, make the best of it.” The good people on the sidewalk, they haven’t given up. It’s personal. They’re fighting for their children and the lives they thought they’d arranged. Other neighbors have been saying: by complaining about the compressor station you’re making it that much harder to sell my now nearly worthless house.

**

Scolded by the senator’s people.

Kirsten Gillibrand & Family Halloween 2009

K Gillibrand + Sons

A Minisink ally was called in for lunch after the rally. She’s friends with one staffer and knows another. The modest and well-behaved gathering on the sidewalk was, they tell her, “way out of line.” The ally responded, “what are they supposed to do? Where should they turn?” The senator’s people didn’t have much of an answer to that. But the senator’s people particularly didn’t like the poster with a picture of the senator and her two sons. Reminding her of her obligations as a mother is evidently out of bounds. Her 5- and 10-year-olds will inherit the same world we’re leaving to everyone else’s kids. Though some sons are more equal – there wasn’t ever a chance the wanton boys would try to permit a site across from the senator’s regular home where her regular children play on her regular lawn. Her children won’t be kept awake by jet engines worth of noise, won’t be sickened by strange smells or take on elevated risks of asthma, neurological damage, endocrine disruption, cancer.

**

R U Expendable?

Sandra Steingraber released from jail

Sandra Steingraber’s episode of intolerable rage. When arsenic-based pesticide was finally banned as being too dangerous and toxic, the law said it was okay to reformulate it as wood preservative, so lumber infused with arsenic could be sold for decks and playground structures. Arsenic leaches out, is leaching out now, onto bare feet and pre-schoolers’ hands. She writes about it in Raising Elijah. (Indiebound listing here.) She was recently arrested for protesting fracking.

The arsenic lumber story gave me a vision of how we’re regarded – as a vast pool of expendable demand generators. Things like toxic lumber and high fructose corn syrup and asbestos flooring can be dumped into the vast pool of people like us and money will come out. (A: Asbestos flooring. Q: How can we make money selling the useless waste from our asbestos mine? (which was already known to be deadly in 1898)) If it results in some additional cases of childhood neurological damage or mesothelioma or diabetes that’s a cost of doing business. Someone else’s cost of our doing business. Future liability, well there might not be any, but if there is, we’ve got lots of lawyers and anyway, it’s very difficult to litigate causality. Even if we eventually lose, whatever we pay out will be dwarfed by the money we’ll make in the meantime. So what makes sense?

If the children of Minisink have more asthma, if the first responders’ lungs get worse, if everyone’s toxic burden goes up, if their homes become impossible to sell, if there’s jet engine noise every day all day long, well, that’s just their cost of our doing business. There’s a spreadsheet in a wanton boy’s cubicle somewhere that runs the numbers for what if the thing explodes, incinerates half a dozen, however many? Average cost per death, per disability, per bodily injury, per emotional pain and suffering.

As the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, Inc. puts it, “It is ironic that some of the same people who challenge our rights to drill will get the benefit of cheap gas to heat their homes and power their businesses.” Their mission, “to protect the common interest of the people as it pertains to natural gas development through education and best environmental practices.” And so it goes.

Just about all of us are in the expendable cost of doing business pool. Pockets of people, families, citizens keep waking up one day to find themselves on their way to being expended. They discover there’s not much to be done and no one from any branch of government will do anything to help.

**

“We’re like family now.” “People I would never have talked to, and working together I find out – I like them.” It takes something outrageous, something dangerous and unjust to bring people together like this. They like it. It feels good. Like a secret, a treasure. It has always been thus. Marching arm in arm, exultant, acting from strong belief, acting from a sudden apprehension of the sacred worth of their own individual lives. No human, they say, is expendable, I know it in my bones. So I am not expendable.

It’s like ink drops on a paper towel spreading and meeting. Groups of good expendable people meet each other, and word gets out, and the isolated pockets flow together. One wonders: What might come of this?

**

It’s been decided: North American shale gas will be extracted, sold and burned. The only way to do that is to frack it. They have their reasons. Reasons that aren’t about American joblessness or energy security and aren’t about air pollution or climate change or the dangers of burning coal. New York hasn’t allowed fracking so far. Thousands of New Yorkers are making it clear a political cost will have to be paid. But other states are throwing fracking bonanzas. Pennsylvania’s been enthusiastic. Pennsylvania pays their public universities to invite fracking companies to come frack on-campus. Minisink is ten short miles from the place where New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey touch each other. Pennsylvania’s fracked gas has to cross New York to get to the ocean. It’s gotta get to the ocean so it can be sold overseas. It’s being exported anyway folks, the shout could have gone up from behind the barricades, from the non-forbidden sidewalk, berserk that no one gets it, that the energy independence thing is just another shameless lie the wanton boys will need permits to make money from, permits only available from the pliable commissioners of FERC and their ilk.

Soon enough, another neighborhood that never thought twice about the yellow “don’t dig here” pylons will start learning about pipeline infrastructure, the Halliburton loophole, decibels and venting releases. They’ll start banding together, go to their first public meetings, find out who’s on the zoning board. Pretty soon a website and can someone design a t-shirt we can sell? And soon enough, another neighborhood after that.

**

From half a block away, the good people of Minisink can’t be heard. Passersby keep passing by, maybe one person in 200 is idly curious. By evening the rally is done. The t-shirts boxed up, the parking paid for and the cars brought around. The tables and the bullhorn and the kids are loaded up and driven the 75 miles back home to Minisink.

** ** ** **

The Links

As promised, many links about how to learn and keep up with Minisink, fracking, pipelines, people being expended…

Minisink’s website: StopMCS.org

And their Facebook page Stop-the-Minisink-Compressor-Station

Other Minisink coverage

My previous stories on Minisink

This Is What Democracy Looks Like is here.

Determined Davids Make Last Ditch Efforts to Sling Stones at Natural Gas Goliath is here.

9/11 – That’s Today. & The Minisink Compressor Station is here.

My previous Minisink Resource Page is here.

From New York Against Fracking: Not Frack Free in Minisink.

Northeast Public Radio WAMC has been doing regular coverage which you’ll find here.

On the NY Marc Connector, from Frack Free Catskills, here.

Fracking 101

Gorgeous animation for a horrible practice is here.

Nice intro to why fracking is perfectly okay right here.

Nice intro to fracking from the UK is here.

To get you a little riled up about federal government complicity, here’s the many ways the oil and gas industries don’t have to follow the same rules as everyone else: Exemptions for hydraulic fracturing under United States federal law

Other activists

Artists Against Fracking – such a list: Yoko, Sean Lennon, Alec Baldwin, Amanda Palmer, Beck, Bonnie Raitt, Patti Smith Group and it just keeps going, more than 200 and counting: ArtistsAgainstFracking.com

M.U.S.T. – Mothers United for Sustainable Technologies can be found here.

Frack Free America’s webiste is here.

And you can find New York Against Fracking here.

Twitter
StopMCS @StopMCS
Josh Fox @gaslandmovie
EcoWatch @EcoWatch
Frack Free America @frackfree
And, especially, Me! @PaulStark59

News and other official information

To follow along, here’s an excellent aggregation of all the current fracking news: EcoWatch Fracking Page.

Natural Gas Watch.org features their eye-opening feature, “This Week In Natural Gas Leaks and Explosions”  is here.

Fair and Balanced

A picturesque and reassuring brochure about the NY Marc from the Iroquois Pipeline Operating Company, with dynamic arrow labeled PA/NY Marcellus Shale Supplies, is here.

Rocco D'Alessandro, President


Millennium Pipeline’s team, including Rocco D’Alessandro, President, is here.

Millennium Pipeline’s description of the Minisink Compressor Project, with this soothing claim: “These compressors are comparable to a jet engine but are operationally whisper quiet with the engineered and installed exhaust” is here.

Additional content on Minisink from Millennium:

“The construction process for this project is expected to take up to nine months and employ 75 workers at peak. Millennium is committed to working with local labor to the wherever possible [sic] to staff these positions.”

It was noted by Minisink residents that nearly all vehicles driven by workers on the site were from out of state.

“Once construction is completed, this project will create on [sic] full-time on-site job.”

“In addition to the direct jobs created, this investment will also provide increased spending at local businesses (lodging, restaurants, equipment, etc.)”

So, I guess now that construction’s completed, that should read “In addition to the direct job created …” there’s the benefit of whatever that person is going to be spending “at local businesses (lodging, restaurants, equipment, etc.)” Unless it’s a local, in which case: job job job.

“This environmentally sensitive project is designed to maximize benefit to Millennium’s customers while minimizing impact to its host communities.”

2 comments to Minisink Takes their Fight to New York City

  • Deborah Lain

    Aside from the Senator’s lack of concern for the damage Minisink residents will suffer from the compressor station, she is ignoring some major issues that make our case more than just a limited struggle for our immediate community.

    One is the precedent that FERC set by approving the Minisink site. Their operating policy requires them to consider community harm in approving gas and oil infrastructure. Our lawyer – a former FERC attorney – says she has never seen such a clearly preferable alternate site than we have proposed. In their final decision, the majority said that as long as a company met all requirements, they didn’t have to consider community harm. (It was this issues that caused the other two FERC commissioners, including the chair, to vote against the decision.)

    This is why the industry is watching our case so closely. If it stands, they will be able to put their infrastructure anywhere they want, as long as they can get the various approvals. FERC might tell them they have to ‘mitigate’ the effects on the community by planting trees so it isn’t as visible, or keeping the noise down.

    Our case has also uncovered a national public safety threat the senator, as well as every other official we’ve contacted, refuses to address. We commissioned one of the best known and respected engineers in the industry to study the proposed operation of the station. He found that it would require dangerous gas velocity in an older pipeline segment near the plant. Gas velocity wears away at the pipe; high velocity increases both the risk of rupture and the devastation it causes if it happens.

    Yet FERC dismissed the report as if it were done by an amateur. We contacted the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) which is charged with ensuring that pipelines are safe. They refused to review the report. We’ve found that both FERC and PHMSA trust the gas companies to ensure safe operations. They don’t routinely examine safety in any new operation and, as our case shows, they won’t even study a problem when it is documented by an expert. Apparently, the government only examines safety after a pipeline ruptures. Then they send out the experts to figure out what went wrong.

    The problem goes far beyond Minisink. Any of the millions of people with a pipeline going through their back yard should be aware that no one checked the gas company’s assurance when it first started operating that it was safe. And over time, as the demand changes and the pipeline wears, initial safety threats tend to get worse.

    This is unacceptable. Yet the senator has never even commented on the problem, let alone requested that FERC or PHMSA determine that the operation is safe. That doesn’t bode well for the hundreds of thousands of people who will soon find themselves living next to a new pipeline built to get all that fracked gas to market.

    Any comments Senator Gillibrand?

    • admin

      Deborah,

      What you’re saying seems really important, and most of it I’ve never heard before. I’d really like to see the brief for the Court of Appeals case. It really seems like something more should be happening about all this.

      Positively,

      Paul

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