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Countdown To Approval For Rockaway Pipeline

It’s possible to build and operate the Rockaway pipeline without doing serious harm to the local environment, federal regulators say. But the pipeline’s operator must agree to a series of additional steps, such as disclosing the toxicity of the drilling fluid it will use.

“We are recommending that our mitigation measures be attached as conditions to any authorization issued by the Commission,” said reviewers for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Today is the last day the public will be able to submit comments on a draft Environmental Impact Statement for major sections of the Rockaway pipeline project.

FERC, which released the draft EIS in October, stated that, “approval of the Projects would have some adverse environmental impacts, but these impacts would be reduced to less-than-significant levels.” Any environmental damage to the Rockaway coast and other areas would “mostly occur during [pipeline] construction,” the agency added.

FERC also notes in the EIS that pipeline-related infrastructure, particularly a meter and regulating facility to be built at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, are vulnerable to flooding and high winds associated with category 1 to 2 hurricanes. But these vulnerabilities could be addressed said the agency.

State and federal agencies, and environmental groups, have raised concerns about the complex project, especially the impact of drilling a 3-mile section of ocean floor pipeline off the Rockaway coast. Some local groups have also charged that the pipeline is part of the “industrialization” of the New York coastline, and an inappropriate use of a national park.

But the pipeline meets a critical demand, according to one of its builders, Oklahoma-based Williams companies. Williams stated in a federal filing that local utility, National Grid, requested the pipeline and that it would “reduce gas supply constraints, allowing existing dual-fuel power plants and customers with interruptible service…to continue using natural gas rather than switching to their alternative oil-burning systems.”

The findings of the draft EIS are a significant step forward for the Rockaway pipeline. If approved by all the relevant agencies, construction on the ocean floor section of the pipeline would begin in the spring of 2014.

And the determination is good news for the Bloomberg administration, which has consistently supported the project, saying that natural gas could enable New York to transition away from heavier heating oils that have contributed to the city’s air pollution woes.

The Rockaway pipeline is one of two major natural gas pipeline projects currently under construction in New York City.

Continue reading the story on New York Environment Report

See Gotham Gazette's feature on the project

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