Monday, February 20, 2012

Following The Path of a Pipeline

Floyd Bennett field looking towards Marine Parkway/Gil Hodges bridge and Rockaways near the path of a proposed new gas pipeline project

Following the path of a pipeline is a fascinating journey, though not necessarily an encouraging one. It's fascinating because it leads down deep into the earth to natural gas deposits in deep shale created ages ago in places both far and not so far from New York City. It's a path that follows the history of the rise of America, urbanization and the resources that shaped that history. And it's a path that leads to questions about the future and energy policy, but it's also rooted in the issues of today. I'm following the path of one specific pipeline. A new pipeline that may be built through Brooklyn to Queens, under Jamaica Bay/Rockaway Inlet and the Atlantic Ocean to an existing pipeline that's part of a larger network of pipes that covers some 10,500 miles of earth down the east coast of America and then west all the way to Texas.

So far the path has led me to few news stories (here's one though), which is surprising because it's a path that's rich with detours both local and distant. And with players both powerful (politicians, policy shapers and pipeline companies), but also small and less recognized for their importance (like clams and crabs, young fish and birds). I'm following this path because it starts out, passes through and will effect places I spend time in regularly, Floyd Bennett Field and Jacob Riis Beach, both part of the National park system's Gateway Recreation Area. It's personal in that way. (But it's also not so personal, because it's not really about me in any meaningful way.)

What I'm quickly learning following the path of this pipline is that perhaps it's fitting that it will pass under two bodies of water in the New York City area because you cannot follow the path of a natural gas pipeline today without considering water. Because the gas that will eventually pass through this pipeline, if it is built, will come from Appalachian and Gulf Coast shale plays, perhaps eventually even the Rockies, there's no escaping the issue of water when following this pipeline. There's no way to follow this path without exploring the story of the gas that will travel through it and how that gas is extracted. And the modern chapter of the natural gas extraction story is all about hydraulic fracturing, which requires large volumes of water both to drill and then to fracture rock when it is sent deep underground at high pressure mixed with chemicals. The water issues associated with fracking are a combination of worries about water management, possible contamination of drinking water wells and aquifers as a result drilling and what to do with toxic waste water left over afterwards.

Though this gas pipeline is linear (New York City is on the receiving end of a oneway chain), its path in one sense begins and ends with water.

At Jacob Riis park near where horizontal directional drilling under beach will make way for new pipeline


frank@nycg said...

Well done, Karen. I think you should write about these things!

Sweetgum Thursday said...

Thanks. Will give it a good faith effort, but I think it needs/deserves the attention of an outlet with much greater reach than this blog. Happy garlic farmland hunting to you.