ROSENDALE – "You can't be alarmist about this; this is actually happening," Phillip Musegas, of Riverkeeper, told the crowd of more than one hundred concerned citizens from around the region who gathered at SUNY New Paltz Monday night to learn about the Pilgrim Pipeline Company's plan to build a bi-directional pipeline through our portion of New York State.
A panel made up of Jen Metzger, Rosendale councilwoman and member of Citizens for Local Power, Phillip Musegas of Riverkeeper, Nadia Steinzor of Earth Works, and Kim Fraczek of the Sane Energy Project talked about Pilgrim Pipeline's background and the dangers of transporting crude and refined oil through such means.
Pilgrim Pipeline Holdings was formed solely for the purpose of building a 178 mile pipeline to transport Bakken crude oil from the Port of Albany to refineries in Linden, NJ, and to transport refined petroleum products back to Albany. The path of the proposed pipeline would closely parallel the New York State Thruway and cross through the Ulster County towns of Esopus, Lloyd, New Paltz, Plattekill, Rosendale, Saugerties, Ulster and the City of Kingston.
"As of Wednesday, Rosendale was the first town in NY to adopt a resolution against Pilgrim Pipeline," Metzger said. "Pilgrim is hoping to get permission from the Thruway Authority to use its right of way. In Rosendale the path veers off the Thruway quite considerably."
The proposed path would need to go through private property and under the Rosendale rail trail on part of the Wallkill Valley rail trail's easement. This proved to be a source of controversy, though, when Pilgrim contacted property owners to request access for surveys by phrasing their letters to imply that owners would be subject to legal action if they didn't give permission.
Being a privately owned company and not a public utility Pilgrim, though, has no right of way, according to Metzger.
Other concerns surround the safety of transporting the Bakken crude, which comes from North Dakota's Bakken shale field and is extracted from the ground by hydrofracking and has a history of volatility. One reason Pilgrim gives to support its pipeline proposal is that such transportation would be safer than by river barge or railroad.
According to Metzger, though, rail and barge transport will not stop. The amount of unrefined oil being transported each year is increasing and Pilgrim's plan would only add to the capacity.
Musegaas reinforced this in his comments.
"Bakken crude oil is very dangerous, and dangerous to transport," he said before explaining some of the state and federal permitting process Pilgrim will have to go through.
"There is no single federal agency that has overreaching authority to permit oil pipelines. This makes them vulnerable to local opposition. Without easements/land access, pipelines can't be built," Musegaas said. "Something that citizens can do is push for full environmental review."
As of November 18, he added, permit applications have not been submitted to any of the affected towns.
Pilgrim has approached the Thruway Authority about using their right of way, but other companies who have tried this route have found that route to be too expensive, according to Musegaas. He added that the state Department of Environmental Conservation needs to give them permits to build in wetlands, as does the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Pilgrim Pipeline's website, meanwhile, claims that there will be local economic benefits from their pipeline project, much like the Keystone project working its way through Congress. They also claim possible lowering of fuel prices, though Metzger pointed out how none of these claims have been made clear to the Town of Rosendale.
"They have not said anything about benefits to the towns in their conversations with us," she added. "They have given us precious little information."