Preparatory Work for Con Ed Pipeline Underway |

Preparatory Work for Con Ed Pipeline Underway

BY EILEEN STUKANE  |  The first natural gas transmission pipeline to be constructed in New York City in 40 years has arrived, in the form of the Spectra Energy Pipeline. This 30-inch pipeline makes its way for 15.2 miles from Staten Island, through Bayonne, New Jersey and Jersey City, before it travels under the Hudson River and arrives at its destination at the Gansevoort Peninsula at the edge of the Meatpacking District — and at the doorstep of the soon-to-be completed Whitney Museum. It is here, at approximately Tenth Avenue and Gansevoort Street, that Con Edison is currently excavating to begin a dig that will make a Con Ed pipeline connection with the 30-inch Spectra Pipeline and move the natural gas uptown to its link with the Con Ed distribution system at West 15th Street.

West Village and Chelsea residents, along with Community Boards 2 and 4 (CB2, CB4) are concerned that the presence of a Spectra Pipeline in the area will present danger to public safety and further encourage the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, of the Earth’s shale — a method known to leave cancer-causing chemicals in water supplies near hydrofracked sites. Environmental activists have had good reason to resist its construction. Looking at the bigger picture, groups such as the Sane Energy Project and Occupy The Pipeline are working to move the planet away from dependence on fossil fuel — acquired in ways harmful to the environment — and toward renewable forms of energy. Natural gas is a fossil fuel that is the result of the prehistoric settlement of marine sediment. It is especially present in the Marcellus Shale that exists thousands of feet below ground from West Virginia, through Pennsylvania, a bit of Ohio and along the west side of the Hudson River in New York.

While New York City itself will not be hydrofracked, residents of Chelsea have joined West Villagers in their concern about the safety of both the Spectra Pipeline and the Con Ed connector pipeline, the pressure of the traveling gas, and the gas’s potentially cancer-causing radon content.

Radon — a tasteless, odorless, colorless gas — is a component of natural gas produced during the radioactive decay of minerals that are present in shale (minerals that are particularly high in Marcellus Shale). Inhalation of radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers and the second leading cause among smokers.  “Our position is that pipeline oversight in general is inadequate and even if there was proper oversight, which we don’t believe is being applied in this case, it still doesn’t obviate the radon risks nor the spreading of the demand for hydrofracked gas,” says Patrick Robbins of Occupy The Pipeline.

Photo by Scott Stiffler Con Edison has begun work in preparation for the installation of new gas facilities in connection to a gas pipeline to 10th Ave., btw. Gansevoort & W. 15th Sts.

Photo by Scott Stiffler
Con Edison has begun work in preparation for the installation of new gas facilities in connection to a gas pipeline to 10th Ave., btw. Gansevoort & W. 15th Sts.

Although Mayor Bloomberg has not spoken directly to Manhattanites to explain the need for another natural gas pipeline into New York City, the Spectra Pipeline was constructed as part of his PlanNYC — a program initiated in 2007 to combat climate change by creating a greener New York City, which would in turn have a stronger economy.

PlanNYC requires that the dirtiest type of heating oil, Number 6, and a slightly less dirty, Number 4, be phased out. By 2015 Number 6 must be eliminated — and by 2030, all buildings must convert to boilers that use a cleaner fuel (such as natural gas, which currently costs less than fuel oil). To encourage gas conversion, utility companies have created incentive programs and city-administrated grants are available to cover costs. And so the bureaucratic groundwork was laid for an increased need for natural gas and the Spectra Pipeline arrived.

Worry set in early on when, after receiving $2.75 million from Spectra Energy, the Hudson River Park Trust granted access for Spectra Pipeline construction on the Gansevoort Peninsula — only 300 feet from a children’s playground. A watchdog group,, reported that in 2012, Texas Eastern Transmission (a division of Spectra Energy) received $134,000 in fines when it was cited by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration for failing to monitor and control for pipeline corrosion. This news, plus recent pipeline explosions in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and the 2010 San Bruno, California explosion that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes, have made residents very nervous.

At a CB2 meeting in October 2011, Ed Gonzales, Project Director of Spectra, was questioned about Spectra’s safety record and the San Bruno explosion. He spoke about the pipeline having a “higher strength and wall thickness than required by federal regulations,” about the fact that the San Bruno pipeline “was not an interstate pipeline” and how Spectra has “levels and layers of protection” and “robotics that would be run through the pipeline to inspect it.”

At a February 14 CB4 meeting about the Con Ed connection, Anthony Leto, Con Ed’s section manager in gas engineering, reiterated what he had said at a previous CB2 meeting — that the pipeline connection to Spectra and its extension up Tenth Avenue would be inspected daily, and that safety features to prevent catastrophe were built into the hydraulic operations with remotely operated valves, battery backups and phone monitoring. However the high pressure of the gas within the pipeline remains a concern.

The Spectra Pipeline transmits the natural gas interstate at a pressure of at least 1000 psi (pounds per square inch). However, as Mr. Leto reported, that pressure gets “stepped down” in Bayonne, New Jersey to 350 psi — which is how it arrives at the Gansevoort Peninsula. The question then is at what pressure is it traveling up Tenth Avenue. There are 16 underground regulating stations (which in the utility business can be referred to as “vaults”) in Manhattan that reduce the pressure down from the 350 psi system to 99 psi, 15 psi, or lower.  Chelsea Now repeatedly asked a spokesperson for Con Edison exactly where the pressure was reduced from 350 psi in the system, and the answer was always the nonspecific “at the 16 regulating stations” (which are beneath those vented manhole covers you see on the street).

If there is some comfort to be had, it may be that there has been natural gas delivered to Manhattan, both Midtown and Uptown, in 350 psi since the 1950s.  One pipeline is a 30-inch pipeline and the other is a double pipeline of 24 inches each. We are living over an 88-mile network of pipelines in New York City (14 miles in Manhattan) and so far, no major explosions. The explosion at the Con Ed substation at East 14th Street and Avenue C during Superstorm Sandy was not natural gas, but an electrical blowout. CB4 has drafted a letter (expected to be approved by the full board on March 6) to the President/CEOs of both Con Edison and Spectra Energy requesting “periodic official reporting of safety tests on the Con Edison gas distribution system” as well as “assurances that the gas flowing at any pressure does not pose a high explosion risk.”

Natural gas hydrofracked from the Marcellus Shale has a potentially higher content of radon than natural gas from other parts of the country. While Governor Cuomo has delayed his decision on allowing further fracking of the Marcellus Shale in the state of New York, there is still Marcellus Shale gas being hydrofracked in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. The story of radon — which is an intrinsic component of natural gas — is that while it is radioactive, it has a relatively short half-life of 3.8 days, after which its concentration is halved. After another 3.8 days, it’s a fourth of the original. It dissipates quickly and since the natural gas the city has been receiving has taken a six to eight-day trip from the Texas-Louisiana Coast, it is fairly diluted on arrival. Natural gas from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania or New York headed to New York City travels an estimated 10 miles per hour to arrive in less than a day. This gives radon’s radioactivity little time to diminish. Although the possibility that storage tanks could be constructed to hold the gas and allow time for the radon to dissipate, Spectra has no plans to do so. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Environmental Impact Statement did not consider radon to be a safety issue.

The Environmental Protection Agency cites 4 picocuries per liter as the safe level in homes. In its draft letter, CB4 has also requested from Con Ed and Spectra, “a periodic statement by an independent body reporting the test results for radon, and a list of other impurities potentially found in the gas we use to cook.”  In order to get a baseline reading for homes in Manhattan, Sane Energy Project has undertaken the NYC Citizen’s Radon Testing Program.

Anyone who lives in the five boroughs and cooks with a gas stove can sign up to receive a testing kit from Sane Energy, by mail, for $18. For info, visit Readings from the test will be compared to readings taken after the natural gas from the Spectra Pipeline arrives.

Note: This Notice was issued by Con Edison on February 20, 2013. Preparatory work at the site is underway.

Public Notice From Con Edison Gas Infrastructure Upgrades

Tenth Avenue between Gansevoort and West 16th Streets
As early as Monday, February 25, 2013 to mid-March, 2013, Con Edison will be doing work in preparation for the installation of new gas facilities in connection to a new gas pipeline to Tenth Avenue between Gansevoort and West 15th Streets.  The project is necessary to meet the energy needs of our customers. We are planning to work at the following locations:

1. 10th Avenue (service road), Gansevoort Street to West 14th Street (5 locations) 7am to 7pm Monday through Friday 9am to 7pm Saturday and Sunday

2. 10th Avenue, West 15th to West 16th Streets 9am to 3pm Daily (Weekdays and Weekends)

Schedule subject to change.

This work to expand our gas intrastructure is part of our partnership with building owners and the City of New York to reduce emissions and improve air quality by converting buildings burning #4 and #6 oil to cleaner-burning natural gas. We apologize for any inconvenience this work may cause. For more information, please contact Public Affairs at 212-460-6427, or email


  1. clarity says:

    Spectra says there would be “robotics that would be run through the pipeline to inspect it.” Note that those internal inspections are required only once every 7 years, and would NOT cover the entire length of the pipeline.

    John Leto notes pressures of 350psi throughout th system, in older pipes, which is actually more worrisome.

    4 pico curies is the actionable, not the safe level in homes. And a Johns Hopkins study advocates the EPA actionable level be reduced to 2 pico curies, because of all the radioactivity humans are now exposed to in daily life.

    Building tanks to store gas elsewhere would only create a bigger explosion risk for people living upstream, and create a situation where an off-gassing tank is contributing even more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

    The existing body of evidence shows that pipelines are dangerous, poorly monitored, and contribute to climate change. Google "pipeline explosions" if you want an afternoon's worth of instances where pipelines failed, despite their builders and inspectors promising to do a good job.

    The solution to our energy situation is not to build thicker pipes or storage tanks or promise to inspect them better. The solution to our energy situation is proscribed by Mark Jacobson's Stanford University study, which outlines how we can supply all our energy needs solely by wind, water and solar. THAT is sane energy.

  2. Evelyn says:

    More than 25 times in the past year alone, Spectra has had to deploy emergency crews to respond to "abnormal conditions" at Ramapo Station, NY, where the Millennium Pipeline feeds fracked gas into the Spectra line. And despite the frequency of their emergencies, Spectra refuses to provide for continuous emergency access to said station, a sprawling industrial complex on the edge of a residential neighborhood.

    The inspection pigs the previous commentator mentioned failed to find the faulty welds that Millennium Pipeline is known to have used in the construction of its line. Their use of pipe with faulty welds was only discovered after the gas started to bubble up in upstate New York and extends to Ramapo Station.

    Residents have reason to be nervous.

  3. Erl Kimmich says:

    I would not say there have not been gas explosion in the City it is a false statement.

    The first link is to an explosion I saw out of my window on 136th St. in the Bronx. The explosion killed two people, looked like a mushroom cloud, and shook the walls and rattled the windows of my building across the Bruckner expressway from where it happened.

    googling natural gas explosion south bronx brought up another gas explosions that killed 6 people.

    The rush to embrace natural gas as a “transition” fuel is assinine and will bring spectacular deaths by fires and explosions as well as

    as eprhaps radon cancer, and the death by climate change that awaits all of us if we keep fracking for natural gas and bruning fossil fuels.

  4. Erl Kimmich says:

    The following lines from the article concern me:
    If there is some comfort to be had, it may be that there has been natural gas delivered to Manhattan, both Midtown and Uptown, in 350 psi since the 1950s. One pipeline is a 30-inch pipeline and the other is a double pipeline of 24 inches each. We are living over an 88-mile network of pipelines in New York City (14 miles in Manhattan) and so far, no major explosions.
    How bad does an explosion have to be and how many have to die before it is considered major? A google search reveals that there have been gas explosion in the city that caused deaths. I witnessed one from my apartment on E.136th St. It ratteld the windows shook the walls and killed two people. It looked like a ball of fire in the shape of a mushroom cloud towering over the Bruckner expressway. Below are links to explosions in NYC:
    Bronx1989 explosion 2 dead
    Bronx 1987 explosion 6 dead 29 injured
    Brooklyn 2011 explosion destroys duplex no injuries
    Queens 2009 explosion 1 dead
    Queens 2012 Natural Gas fire hurricane sandy 100 homes destroyed
    Queens 2008 explosion 16 injured of whom 1 died 11 weeks later
    Staten Island 1973 natural gas explosion 40 dead
    Manhattan 1974 explosion 86 injured

    Nationwide there are natural gas explosions and fatalities more frequently than you might think.

    Erl Kimmich

  5. Erl Kimmich says:

    Sorry, it didn't work posting the links in my previous comment. I found them through the google search engine by typing in the borough and the words natural gas explosion.

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  9. […] Ms. Stukane now reports in  an update to that story: ”West Village and Chelsea residents, along with Community […]

  10. […] there are a lot of people who are very, very unhappy about the pipeline and are doing everything they can to stop it. Among the opponents are a host of environmental […]

  11. […] there are a lot of people who are very, very unhappy about the pipeline and are doing everything they can to stop it. Among the opponents are a host of environmental […]

  12. […] there are a lot of people who are very, very unhappy about the pipeline and are doing everything they can to stop it. Among the opponents are a host of environmental […]

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  16. This Spectra project is an object of protest and has made headlines. What’s the latest?

  17. Pipelines in densely populated areas would definitely raise an alarm among the residents regarding their safety. I think it is just natural for the residents to be concerned of such especially these pipelines transports gases that aren’t visible to the naked eye. People are not educated enough how these gases smell and by the time they realize it, it has already posed a threat. We had a similar case here in Brisbane, but this time it is the storage of hazardous materials before these get transported to a safer location. But because these materials are stored at a specific location, that window of time between storage and transport poses some hazardous threat.

  18. Pipe Laying says:

    Spectra Pipeline Project!!! I have heard about that project many times as it has become the point of objection.