President Barack Obama has strongly endorsed natural gas as a clean energy source, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said more natural gas is critical for the city to improve air quality and public health.
A report released this month by the RAND Corp. estimated the cost to health and the environment from shale gas development emissions in neighboring Pennsylvania at $7.2 million to $32 million in 2011, with up to 75 percent of it related to compressor stations. To put that in perspective, the report said the single largest coal-fired power plant alone produced $75 million in damage in 2008.
Opponents feel they have little say in the federal energy commission approval process when a gas company wants to build pipeline infrastructure.
In a rare split decision, the commission voted 3-2 in December to give final approval to the project. Chairman Jon Wellinghoff and one commissioner dissented, saying that "even after mitigation, the Minisink project will have significant adverse environmental consequences." They endorsed the alternate site favored by the community, saying it would have considerably less environmental impact.
The alternate site is nearly a mile from the nearest home, while the company's chosen site has about 190 homes within a half-mile of the proposed site and one within 600 feet.
"Of course, nobody wants a compressor station next door," said Deborah Lain, who raises grass-fed cattle on a hilltop farm built by her forebears in 1785. "We're not saying we don't want it. We're saying we've come up with a very viable alternative site without so many people nearby."
That alternate site is in neighboring Deerpark, which passed a resolution opposing the compressor station last year and told the commission the Minisink site would cause less environmental impact. The federal commission doesn't have to abide by such resolutions, though. The agency approved a compressor station for Dominion Resources in Myersville, Md., despite the town council's unanimous vote against it. Dominion is suing the town and the state over decisions blocking the project.
Leanne Baum said she and her husband moved here from New Jersey six years ago to raise their four children where they could run around outside and get fresh air and sunshine.
They planted a big vegetable garden behind their new clapboard home high on a hill overlooking open farmland. "We put down our roots, literally and figuratively," Leanne Baum said, bouncing her curly-haired daughter on her hip before a roaring fire in her family room. "We loved it here. Up to a year and a half ago."
That's when the compressor project was proposed.
"It's a disgrace that the government allows this to happen in all these little communities," said the now-retired Russo, who plans to move if the compressor station goes online. "We fought the terrorists after 9/11 and now I'm fighting my own government to save my home."