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Gas pipeline operators set sights on NY

Associated Press Modified: September 3, 2012 at 11:00 am •  Published: September 3, 2012

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — With a decision expected soon on whether to allow hydraulic fracturing in New York state, natural gas pipeline operators are already looking at setting up shop and opponents are predicting environmental damage, safety problems and land seizures through eminent domain.

There's already a proposal for a pipeline to carry low-cost natural gas from Pennsylvania to major Northeast markets, such as New York City and Boston. A $750 million pipeline proposed for southwestern New York would also provide a route from wells in New York if Gov. Andrew Cuomo lifts a 4-year-old ban on hydraulic fracturing and lets drillers use the technique.

Opponents claim that's the real motive for the pipeline plan.

"The only reason they'd spend $750 million would be to get the infrastructure in place for a hoped-for future based on Gov. Cuomo's decision," said pipeline opponent Mark Pezzati, a resident of Andes, along the proposed pipeline route in rural Delaware County. "They'll be sitting pretty to control all the gas flow" from New York wells.

But the company proposing the pipeline said New York wells aren't factored into current plans and additional capacity would have to be added to accommodate them.

Vast reserves of natural gas lie in the Marcellus Shale formation beneath Pennsylvania, New York and nearby states, and advances in drilling have created an energy industry boom, with Pennsylvania one of its earliest benefactors in the form of jobs and profits. The new supplies have helped boost the national gas supply so much that prices have dropped to historic lows.

The gas is freed from the ground through a process in which large volumes of water, plus sand and chemicals, are injected deep underground to break rock apart. Residents have complained of groundwater contamination and illnesses, but research is inconclusive and in the early stages.

Many state and federal officials say the practice is safe when done properly, but faulty wells have caused pollution.

"Natural gas isn't perfect, but from an environmental point of view, it's much better" than coal, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Thursday. Bloomberg said the city needs more natural gas to reduce the greenhouse gases and unhealthy air quality caused by burning oil and coal.

Cuomo hasn't denied a New York Times report in June that he plans to allow hydraulic fracturing in the area near the Pennsylvania border, where the shale is richest in gas and communities have voiced support for the industry. He is widely expected to issue a decision this month.

Even if New York doesn't decide to be a host of the party, the pipeline feud will keep it very much a guest.

The Constitution Pipeline would run from Susquehanna County in Pennsylvania through New York's Broome, Chenango, and Delaware counties to connect with the existing Tennessee and Iroquois pipelines in the Schoharie County town of Wright, 80 miles southwest of Albany. It's proposed by Williams Partners, an energy infrastructure company based in Tulsa, Okla., and Houston-based Cabot Oil & Gas.

The pipeline is fully contracted with long-term commitments from natural gas producers operating in Pennsylvania and isn't designed to facilitate natural gas drilling in New York, said Williams spokesman Chris Stockton. The initial capacity will be enough to serve the daily needs of about 3 million homes, he said.

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