The Camels’ Nose

“The camel’s nose is a metaphor for a situation where the permitting of a small, seemingly innocuous act will open the door for larger, clearly undesirable actions.” (Wikipedia) In the fable, a camel seeks shelter from a raging storm in the tent of its owner.  Initially he permits the camel to stick only its nose inside, but bit by bit it comes to occupy the whole tent, with the owner pushed out into the weather.

Back in 2012, a partnership led by Williams Partners L.P. of Tulsa planned to profit from ramming the Constitution pipeline down the length of Franklin. Only two years later, a Houston company, Kinder Morgan, wanted to cash-in similarly with the Northeast Energy Direct (NED) pipeline, only fifty feet from the first. This one would come with a compressor station. Revisions of the second company’s plan added a chemical facility to a much expanded complex. Even more was proposed with the addition of a huge power generating plant, possibly next to the Marcy South high-voltage line.

The pre-filing of NED pipeline in September of 2014 by Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company LLC (a subsidiary of KM) described a small compound of ten acres, much like the Hancock station on the Millennium pipeline, with only a single turbine/compressor unit and a control building. However, in its filing of November 2015, TGP more than doubled the size of the footprint to accommodate a second turbine/compressor and a bank of eighteen noisy cooling fans. These fans, unlike the turbine/compressors, will not be within a sound-deadening building.

Also added was an odorant injector. In the pre-filing, this chemical facility was planned for the Market Path segment of the pipeline, where odorant is required in the gas. Shortly before the filing, it was relocated to the Supply Path segment, despite there being no such requirement for this segment. According to staff at the KM open house in Franklin, the odorant injector building was not even depicted as the right size because they did not have time to draft plans. On the site plan in Franklin and Otego, this building was dropped in without drawing the necessary driveway or parking lot, as provided for the other four buildings.

Conflicting reasons were given for this belated shift of the injector to the site in Franklin, officially called the Otego Compressor Station. It is worth noting that the head compressor station on the Market Path is in the Town of Nassau, Rensselaer County, where the local government fully supports the residents in opposition to the compressor station. In Franklin, not so much. So we get the odorant injector.

In Franklin, an alternate location for the complex was considered between Chamberlain Hill Road and the Marcy South powerlines. One of the reasons given for rejecting this location is that it is within a mile of the golf course. Unstated is whether the noise or the odor would be more distasteful to the golfers. Instead TGP chose the location off Otego Road, midway between the Franklin and Otego schools.

A blend of stinky chemicals is used to odorize the gas. Mostly it is butyl-mercaptan – see the accompanying staff report on Pg. 9. This chemical is used because humans can smell it in concentration of parts per billion. Any leaks from this complex are sure to be noticed by its neighbors.

The odorant injector could be a problem for more than just the two villages. Back in 2013, a leak of mercaptan in the city of Rouen, France could be smelled in southeast London, over 200 miles downwind and across the English Channel.

At the concentration in the gas, this odorant is safe — at least over short exposures. (Neighbors of the Aliso Canyon storage facility for natural gas in southern California were driven from their homes as a leak stretched into days and weeks.) But mercaptan will quickly sicken you in concentrations of only ten parts per million. And it can kill you in concentrations of several hundred ppm, or hundredths of one percent. The storage tank in the odorant building will hold 6,000 gallons under pressure or more than twenty-two tons. It will need to be filled every few months. There are procedures to safely handle mercaptan. Nevertheless, a slip-up can be catastrophic because the fluid is both flammable and explosive.

On the NED Supply Path segment, twenty percent of the capacity (0.24 of the 1.2 billion cubic feet per day) is contracted for a new power generating plant in New York. KM will reveal neither the company nor the location. However, high-voltage lines are required to transmit the power. Franklin is one of only six locations where such lines cross the proposed route of the Supply Path. Also it is one of only two locations with a compressor station, the other being Schoharie. Withdrawing one fifth of the gas from the pipeline will slow the flow unless the gas is re-compressed.

The first pipeline is the camel’s nose. Once a greenfield pipe is in place, which for Franklin would be Constitution, all that follows would be so much more difficult to stop.

How was it that this camel’s nose was first allowed into our tent?

The Constitution Pipeline was sold as being necessary to bring natural gas to Amphenol Aerospace in Sidney. This is not true. In the years before the misnamed Constitution project, Leatherstocking Gas Company was pursuing bringing natural gas from the Dominion Transmission pipeline in Madison County. Gas was to come south through the existing EmKey Energy pipeline, which was built by Norse Energy and then sold to partly cover the losses of its failed drilling program. Then the gas was to come east along a new pipeline to be built along State Highway 206 through the towns of Coventry, Bainbridge, and Sidney. In the year before Constitution was announced, Leatherstocking had obtained at least one of the necessary franchises and was perusing the other towns.

Only after the Constitution project was announced, and Leatherstocking was offered four taps along that pipeline, was its earlier project abandoned and apparently forgotten. Thereby Constitution gained the veneer of a local benefit (the only such along the entire 124 mile route), and Leatherstocking gained greater prospects.

Local politicians have been played by Constitution Pipeline Company like babes in the woods. Belatedly, some have come to oppose the NED pipeline, which would be much harder to stop should Constitution be built.

There is no limit to how much gas infrastructure could be built in Franklin. Just this January, Millennium Pipeline announced that it plans to more than double the power of the Hancock compressor station, which has already depopulated the neighborhood of permanent residents. Additional infrastructure proposed include a third compressor station in the Town of Highland and 7.3 miles of thirty-six-inch pipe in Orange County.

What is to protect the affected landowners and neighbors from the encroachment of these pipelines and this compressor complex? The Town Council of Franklin has yet to extend landowner protections, despite years of requests. Where will this leave the townspeople?

Out on their own with gas infrastructure deeply entrenched in Franklin. How will the next generation judge our actions…or our lack of action?