BY CHRISTIAN HALSTEAD
MAHWAH- The town council of Mahway, NJ unanimously decided at a board meeting December 3 to attempt to regulate pipelines passing through its township. This decision was spurred by the Pilgrim Pipeline’s seemingly imminent construction.
The Pilgrim Pipeline, a proposed set of two oil pipelines to run from Albany to the Bayway Refinery in Linden, New Jersey, would carry an estimated 200,000 gallons of crude oil per day southbound from Albany to the Bayway Refinery. It would then carry 200,000 gallons of refined petroleum products in that same timespan from the Linden refinery to the New York Harbor. From here, the product would be distributed to areas in New England.
The town council meeting succeeded the Mahwah Planning Board’s public meeting on the same issue held on November 30, which had an overwhelming attendance of 150 passionate Mahwah citizens, all opposed to the pipeline’s construction.
This fervor is far from unprecedented. In New York state alone, 19 municipalities along the Pilgrim Pipeline’s proposed path, including Tuxedo, have passed resolutions strongly opposed to the pipeline.
The pipeline’s path would enter Rockland County from the north towards Sloatsburg, straddling the county line through land that is part of the Ramapo Mountains. It would then break off fully into Rockland County by Sterling Mine Road in Sloatsburg and go through ponds and streams which are part of Seven Lakes Drive.
It would then straddle the county line again along the New Jersey border until it finally leaves New York and enters New Jersey heading in the direction of Ramapo Reservation, one of the most frequently enjoyed nature reserves the area has to offer for both Bergen and Rockland county residents.
The sentiment in Mahwah last Thursday night mirrored that of the opposition to the Pilgrim Pipeline across the board. “It doesn’t bring benefit. It brings a lot of risk,” said Mather Markell, a Mahwah citizen and contender for Mahwah Town Council.
The number one concern of many is the increased risk of oil spills that the introduction of two new pipelines would pose to the environment and how this affects area residents. For example, the Indian Point oil spill in May 2015 resulted in the leakage of thousands of gallons of oil into the Hudson River, New York City’s most valuable fishing resource and easily the most prominent, interconnected river in the region.
As stated by Mahwah mayor, Bill Laforet, “Today is the day that water is more valuable than crude oil.” The pipeline would directly affect the town’s water supply as is the case in many municipalities.
In New York State, reporting a leak from a private gas line to state authorities is only required monthly (New York Compilation of Rules and Regulations, Title 16 Public Service Commission, Volume B Chapter 3 Gas Utilities, Sub Chapter C Safety, Part 255 Transmission and Distribution of Gas), not immediately following the leak. Response to a leak is out of the hands of government and would be left to the company that owns the pipeline.
Additionally, except in extreme cases, the law does not necessitate public notification regardless of whether water reserves are contaminated.Furthermore, the pipeline would not bring in any tax revenue for the town. These factors, along with many others, have communities from Albany to Linden asking, why bother?
One must consider the numerous benefits associated with the construction of pipelines. First and foremost, the construction and maintenance of a new pipeline creates new jobs. This was clearly stated during the Mahwah Town Council meeting when a representative from the International Union of Operating Engineers, one of the primary unions to be employed by the Pilgrim Pipeline during its construction, said that, “in order to remain competitive and keep our economy moving, we need responsible energy infrastructure development.”
The Pilgrim Pipeline’s website confirms that the estimated $1 billion dollar project will, “create 2,000 construction jobs.” Beyond temporary economic gains, there is the additional benefit of increased stability in the oil supply provided for the regions the Pilgrim Pipeline aims to serve. For example in the case of natural disasters or debilitatingly extreme weather conditions, the increased security associated with pipelines “will address supply disruptions and price spikes that occur [in states of emergency],” another crucial point brought up by the project’s website.
The controversy of the Pilgrim Pipeline’s construction is relatively contained within the communities it would directly affect but this vehement debate is mirrored by the nation-wide Keystone Pipeline debate over the past few years. The Keystone Pipeline, which runs from the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin in Alberta, Canada to refineries in Illinois and even as far as Texas, was commissioned in 2010 and was subsequently met with strong public opposition.
In the cases of both the Keystone Pipeline and the Pilgrim Pipeline, proponents of pipeline construction claim that the economic benefits outweigh the environmental risks, while opponents claim that the opposite is true. In the case of Mahwah, as well as a number of other communities along the Pilgrim Pipeline’s route, the citizens by and large feel that the economic benefits pale in comparison to the enormity of the environmental hazards which the introduction of a pipeline would bring to their own backyards.
As put by Town Councilwoman Janet Ariemma, “[The Pilgrim Pipeline] affects not just Mahwah; it affects everyone around here.” She added, “We have to try to work together with our neighbors.”