On December 9th, 2014 I attended and testified at the open public meeting of the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC). I was truly humbled, awed, and incredibly inspired. Over 50 citizens, from the ages of 11 to 80, testified before the Commission against the PennEast pipeline. The PennEast is a 36 inch fracked gas pipeline that if approved, would travel 108 miles, 87% of which would be within the boundaries of the Delaware River watershed – a watershed which 15 million people rely upon. This pipeline and it’s ensuing compressor stations and associated infrastructure, would travel from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, to an end point in Mercer County New Jersey.
PennEast is one of a growing number of pipelines that are being pushed aggressively in the northeastern United States by the oil and gas industry. It is also one of the growing numbers of oil and gas infrastructure projects that is facing increasingly vocal community opposition. People are waking up to the local, regional and international threats posed by these projects which are now frequently coming directly through their back yards.
Grandmothers, children, municipal council members, farmers, teachers, art historians, poets, professors and environmental organization and community leaders, one after another took their place at the podium. We all stood just below an iconic photo of George Washington crossing the Delaware; unanimously, each person called on the Commission to reject the project and preserve and protect our rights to clean air, clean water, and a livable and sustainable future. Each person spoke respectfully, intelligently, with thoughtfulness and foresight, and each person added something different and unique to the overwhelming reasons why this pipeline is wrong on so many, many levels.
The PennEast project proposal will be the first pipeline project where the DRBC has acknowledged its jurisdiction over an entire pipeline. This is an important decision, as many regional, municipal and federal bodies, including the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission, regularly segment pipeline projects, such that they only approve a “piece of it” neither considering the cumulative impacts of the project, nor the project in it’s entirety.In 1961, the DRBC was the first regional body set up in the United States that has the force of law to oversee a unified approach to managing a river system, without regard for political boundaries. The four Basin State Governors – Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania – and the US Army Corp of Engineers that represents the federal government, govern it. Perhaps, more then 50 years later, the DRBC will also be the first regional body to actually say no to a pipeline by recognizing and taking into account the larger picture of what is at stake. Each time we add an artery to this “Frankenstein fracking monster” our rights to clean air, clean water and a liveable future become more threatened and less certain.
Below is the statement that I submitted to the DRBC. I delivered an abridged version of this testimony at the hearing. You can see and “hear me” in the television news clip …at around the 1:49 minute mark!
Delaware River Basin Commission
Public Comments: Penn East Pipeline
December 9th, 2014
Statement by Harriet Shugarman
I am here today to comment on the Penn East pipeline proposal. I speak as a stakeholder, on behalf of the thousands of families that I represent in my role as the Executive Director of ClimateMama and as a board member of The Mothers Project. I am also here, exercising my responsibility as a mother to 2 teenager children, who I am raising in New Jersey.
Too often our constituents, students, families and communities take for granted that “someone” is looking out for our best interests, ensuring among other things, that our right to clean air and clean water is assured. We assume that these rights are enshrined for us by the laws of our country, state, region and municipality and that these rights are protected by legal authorities and entities created to act in our best interests. Unfortunately, when it comes to oil and gas infrastructure, in part because of technological advances coupled with notable industry exemptions and as well as blatant disregard for laws established to protect our rights to clean air and clean water, combined with a general lack of adequate oversight and transparency, these rights and protections are being eroded, daily.
Our mantra at ClimateMama: “Tell the truth, actions speak louder then words, and don’t be afraid;” adages we all teach our children, and which our parents taught us. I come here today to remind you that this mantra applies to you too, and that you should use it when interpreting the rules you operate under. Conditions have changed and we now have the power to do irreparable and irreversible harm to the DRB; harm which even 10 years ago and certainly more than 50 years ago when the DRBC was established, we could not have begun to imagine.
As commissioners, I know you take your responsibilities extremely seriously, that many of you have children, neighbors and family who look to you daily to exercise your authority to ensure that our DRB is protected. You also have rules that you work within that can perhaps at times seem constraining. It may even seem that certain things aren’t “within your jurisdiction, nor your power.” Yet, you have taken a tremendous step forward for us all, by exercising your jurisdiction over the Penn East pipeline. I ask you to use this same wisdom when looking at the big picture and long-term consequences that building pipelines in critical watersheds puts at stake. Many people today will and are pointing out to you very critical and specific consequences and dangers that the siting, construction and required supporting infrastructure of this pipeline poses both on a permanent and temporary basis to the DRB. For the remainder of the 3 minutes that I have today, my hope is to encourage you to also consider the big picture, cumulative consequences of this project, and why these must be your responsibility too.
This past August, Mr. Tambini, Executive Director of DRBC reminded us of the mandate of the 1961 Compact, which states in it’s preamble: “The Compact’s signing marked the first time since the nation’s birth that the federal government and a group of states joined together as equal partners in a river basin planning, development and regulatory agency.” Mr. Tambini pointed out that, “the fact that five separate governmental bodies with their own sovereign powers can successfully work together on an equal footing in managing a common resource has caught the eye of other river managers not only in this country, but around the world.” Mr. Tambini proceeded to list many of the countries that have sent representatives to learn from the DRBC.
We meet here today, at the same time that representatives from approximately180 countries, including our own, meet in Lima, Peru to consider the serious consequences that we face from our current energy choices, which threaten not only the air we breath and our limited supply of clean potable water, but also the very stability of our planet’s ecosystems, which the survival of our human species depends on. The message from world scientists to delegates at Lima is, if we hope to maintain a livable planet for human life, then we must keep 2/3s of all known fossil fuels, including natural gas, in the ground.
I found your Draft Water Resources Program FY 2015-2017 therefore timely and particularly relevant, as you have highlighted emergent issues for the DRB as those including: Natural Gas Extraction in the Basin, Energy Issues and the Changing Climate and Adaptive Management. Your report clearly states that the climate impacts to the Basin remain unclear. It would seem prudent, both from a regional as well as an international basis to implement the precautionary principal.
Your responsibility as Commissioners is to protect and maintain the basin’s integrity, for current and future generations, doesn’t this by its very nature, necessitate a ban on gas infrastructure and drilling in the region? Lima’s message to all of us is a stern and stark warning. We must accept our practical, moral and ethical responsibilities, and work together to slow our planet’s downward spiral, which we have already put into motion.
As Mr. Tambini reminded us, the DRBC, because of its management skills, expertise, and forward thinking is an example to countries and regions around the world. You now have an important opportunity to continue to lead by saying no to the PENN East pipeline. The future of the DRB depends on the choices you make…and we need you to summon the courage to recognize that humanity has been looking in the wrong direction on oil and gas infrastructure build out. Natural gas production and it’s infrastructure is neither a “gift nor a blessing,” but rather a curse. It threatens our security, destabilizes our economy, accelerates climate change, and is currently poisoning our water and our air, threatening our health and our food supply, as well as jeopardizing our future and our now.
A pipeline isn’t just “a pipeline” and in exercising your jurisdiction you must also consider what will flow through this pipeline, and the consequences that using this gas brings with it. The dots must be connected. Compressed gas, the carcinogenic chemicals used to frack it, and the radioactive materials which fracking releases all travel with and are emitted along the pipeline route, creating grave security risks, on a multitude of levels.
In addition, we know that more than 10,000 pipeline incidents have occurred in the United States since 1993. PHMSA, the Federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, reports on average 280 significant spills and/or incidents a year. The Pipeline Safety Trust reported in a July 2014 report that between the 10 years from 2003 through 2012 an average of over 4.5 million gallons of hazardous liquids have spilled from pipelines EACH year, and more then 56% of that was never recovered. It is not a question of maybe there will be spills but WHEN and WHERE they will occur. We have over 2.6 million miles of pipeline already in the US, with only 135 PHMSA inspectors. In fact, only 1/5 of US pipeline systems have been inspected by PHMSA or its state partners since 2006. Keep these facts in mind when you are thinking about the Penn East pipeline traversing the DRB.
I will close now, by asking you to consider 3 additional points, as you weigh your decision:
1. The world wants to and is willing to learn from your actions.
2. You have the unique opportunity to speak out and be heard on the immediate and eminent threats that oil and gas pipelines pose.
3. You can play a critical role in “connecting the dots” and changing outdated rules.
In accepting jurisdiction over the Penn East, you have opened the door to look critically at current rules and procedures. As a stakeholder, I ask you to help us open this door wider.