By JOE MAHONEY
The Daily Star
---- — COOPERSTOWN — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is recommending that existing pipeline infrastructure be considered for transporting natural gas being extracted in Pennsylvania before federal regulators approve the proposed Constitution Pipeline.
In a comment sent to the Federal Energy Regulator Commission on Friday, a Fish and Wildlife field supervisor, David A. Stilwell, raised over-arching concerns about the need for the $750 million project slated to carry gas from Pennsylvania to Schoharie County through a largely underground pipe 30 inches in diameter.
“Project documents indicate that the full capacity of the pipeline is currently under contract,” Stilwell wrote. “However, it is not yet clear where the demand is for the gas that is being extracted in Pennsylvania. Nor, has it been explained how the exiting pipeline infrastructure fails to provide adequate service.”
Stilwell then pointed to existing pipelines that he said carry gas from Pennsylvania to the New York City area: Tennessee Gas 300, the Stage Coach to Milennium Route and Texas Eastern.
“The FERC should require a more thorough review of these projects as alternatives for delivering gas to southeast New York,” he said. “Adequate information on project purpose and need should be provided by the EIS (environmental impact statement).”
The FERC last month sponsored three public scoping meetings on the project. It has set a deadline of next Tuesday to submit written comments on the 121-mile pipeline, which has been proposed by Williams Partners and Cabot Oil and Gas, both of which are involved in natural gas production in Pennsylvania.
An alternative pathway for the project, dubbed Route M, was endorsed this week by the Otsego County Board of Representatives following heated debate. Some advocates for that route, including Oneonta Mayor Dick Miller, said the pipeline is a separate issue from the debate over hydrofracking.
Stilwell, though, told FERC that in reviewing the project it should also take into account potential future natural gas development in the region.
“Consideration should be given to to future Marcellus shale gas drilling and additional natural gas pipelines and infrastructure which may be required,” Stilwell wrote. “ ... While we understand that future development is difficult to predict, some information from Marcellus Shale drilling in Pennsylvania may provide insight.”
Stilwell also suggested various species of wildlife and wetlands are expected to be impacted by the project. He said the proposed alternative routes would “cross many tracts of forest, some large in size.”
“The fragmentation of forests by utilities, roads, and other development results in the direct loss of habitat and can reduce habitat quality, particularly for interior species such as black bear, northern goshawk, scarlet tanager and ovenbird among many others,” he wrote. Thus, he said, the analysis should consider “not only the direct but also the indirect effects of fragmentation.”
Constitution Pipeline spokesman Christopher Stockton did not respond to telephone messages requesting comment.
A representative of the Delaware-Otsego Audobon Society, Andrew Mason, said he was pleased to learn that the Fish and Wildlife official had expressed strong environmental concerns. “It will be interesting to see if FERC gives it any weight,” Mason said. The local Audubon group is opposed to the pipeline.
Stilwell’s four-page letter was directed to Kevin Bowman, a FERC environmental protection specialist.