Fracking is Coming to the Most Prized NYC 'Hood: The West Village

Hydraulic Fracturing, not-so-affectionately nicknamed “Fracking,” is coming to New York City’s West Village. Don’t believe it? I didn’t either, until I read this article in the Nation.

Apparently, a pipeline 30 inches in diameter, carrying highly pressurized gas, is slated to run underneath the densely populated, and historic West Village’s tree-lined, cobblestone streets. The pipeline, being constructed by a subsidiary of Spectra Energy, will connect the New York City gas infrastructure to Marcellus shale, a bed that lies underneath Pennsylvania and upstate New York.

In the spring of 2012, a group calling themselves Occupy the Pipeline, began protesting the construction of the pipeline citing health and safety concerns. The list they’ve compiled, and that they have begun publicizing through West Village walking tours, turns out to be entirely legitimate. The Marcellus shale bed not only has seventy times the radioactivity of natural gas, but it also possesses extremely high radon content, which has been linked to lung cancer in non-smokers. Worse, monitoring radon content has been determined “outside the purview” of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Without adequate monitoring, the risks multiply as Spectra Energy has a glowing safety track record including seventeen safety violations in 2011, a $15 billion fine for contaminated pipelines and multiple facility explosions. No surprise then, Spectra was named the number-one gas polluter in British Columbia. Citing past fracking explosions, including a 2010 explosion in San Bruno, Calif., which killed 8 people and destroyed 38 homes, Occupy the pipeline Protesters have labeled the pipeline a “disaster in waiting”. Indeed, a peer-reviewed scientific study was conducted linking flammable methane-laced drinking water to fracking.

Faced with protesters at a conference last August, Governor Andrew Cuomo stated, “Let’s make the decision on the facts. Let the science dictate the conclusion.”

Occupy representatives feel the decision should be based on science as well: “We recognize the scientific consensus that fossil fuels cause global warming. We believe that the need to stop extracting and burning hydrocarbons could not be more urgent and that the construction of infrastructure to transport fossil fuels only postpones the day that we as a city and as a society free ourselves from the fossil fuel addiction that imperils the very future of life on this planet.”

This statement regarding future risks of fossil fuel pollution doesn’t even touch the more immediate concern that an unmonitored pipeline could explode, killing residents and tourists, and causing millions in property damage. Over 5,000 residents of the West Village agree, and have filed complaints, which have largely been ignored.

Drawing attention to the myriad health and environmental issues brought to bear over this particular fracking issue — enough to deter anyone with common sense from supporting it— doesn’t in itself do justice to address the larger issue of government catering to business at every level at the expense of employees, local citizens, and the environment. The recent West Fertilizer Co. explosion in Waco, Texas and the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon spill are only two of the laundry list of examples.

It’s a hackneyed storyline: government approval of environmentally detrimental project (tacit or otherwise), inadequate regulation and compliance, disaster at the finish. When do we get to stop paying for tickets to this nauseating display of corporate corner-cutting-greed and government indifference?