Groups Opposing Spectra Gas Pipeline File Motion with FERC to Highlight Dangers of Natural Gas Found in Marcellus Shale

A lawyer representing three groups opposed to Spectra Energy’s proposed natural gas pipeline has filed a motion with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that calls attention to a study showing the dangers of hydrofracking for natural gas in Marcellus Shale. The study, entitled Radon in Natural Gas from Marcellus Shale, comes with a report from Dr. Marvin Resnikoff, and outlines the dangers of the carcinogenic gas radon which is released through the process used to extract natural gas. The gas pipeline, which would run through much of Jersey City, has caused an uproar among grassroot groups, local politicians, and environmental groups who are now fighting the energy company’s proposed route.

In the motion from William Schulte — the lawyer from Eastern Environment law center representing anti-pipeline groups No Gas Pipeline, the Sierra Club, and Food & Water Watch — he noted the study was not available when the group first motioned to intervene and prevent Spectra from building the pipeline.

According to the motion, FERC was in fact “made aware” of the dangers of “natural gas produced from the Marcellus Shale,” which has been shown to bring with it increased levels of indoor radon, “thereby increasing the risk of lung cancers and premature deaths.” FERC, says Schulte, did not fully consider this information. With the study complete, the groups hope FERC will reconsider.

Natural gas from Marcellus Shale, the prime source of the natural gas to be transmitted through the pipeline, has “a much higher radon content than natural gas derived from other sources.”

The “shorter distance between Marcellus Shale wellheads and end use offers an inadequate amount of time for the radon to naturally decay before entering homes,” the motion continues. “Yet it is apparent that FERC has not taken this potentially significant threat to public health and the environment into consideration and given it a “hard look,” as is required under the National Environmental Policy Act.”

In the study, Resnikoff says, “Unlike present sources for natural gas, located in Texas and Louisiana, the Marcellus Shale is considerably closer to New York consumers. In addition, the radioactive levels at the wellheads in New York are higher than the national average for natural gas wells throughout the US.”

The reason FERC has been dismissive of this study, according to Schulte’s motion, is due to a technicality. The Environmental Protection Agency maintains the “primary cause of indoor radon issues is radon from soil gas.” Because the radon will come from shale, “FERC therefore did not need to consider the potential for the combustion of radon-laden natural gas to contribute to indoor radon issues.”

But Schulte maintains it is nonsensical to “reject consideration of a potential environmental threat simply because that threat may have sources other than the action under review.”

When reached for comment, Spectra spokeswoman Marylee Hanley would only say, “The NJ – NY Expansion Project will deliver a clean, domestic and diverse supply of natural gas to the region that meets or exceeds our federal gas quality specifications.”

The groups opposed to the pipeline remain unconvinced, however, as No Gas Pipeline president Dale Hardman said, “We all feel that this radon transmission was not seriously looked at by FERC as required under NEPA guidelines and thus [William] ‘BJ’ Schulte filed the motion on behalf of each of us.”

Hardman’s group will be at the Everything Jersey City Festival this Saturday, May 19th, “to further bring this to people’s attention and sign up members to join our fight against Spectra Energy.”

Now that motion has been filed, Shulte says the groups must now “wait to see whether FERC responds, and if so, how.”

“Mainly we just wanted to make sure that this new information regarding radon, which was not available at the time we made our original comments, was put on the record before FERC makes its decision,” he said.

According to Tamara Young-Allen, a spokeswoman for FERC, the commission will consider the motion at the same time it addresses all of the “motions submitted or issues raised by commenters and other petitioners.” FERC will make a decision at their discretion, and no time table is available as to when that might be.

Matt Hunger

is a former staff writer for the Jersey City Independent.