Thoughts and observations about the 10/17/2016 NJ DEP pipeline hearing

I live streamed the entire hearing in three parts (one, two, and three…there are some nice interviews at the ends of each part). My original interview with People Over Pipelines was back in April.

Note that everything I say in this article is all from memory and my own speculation. I was holding the camera the whole time and didn’t explicitly keep track of anything. I also have a lot to learn and my coming to this hearing is part of that process.

Somewhere between two thirds and three quarters of the comments were against the pipeline. My instinct says that the vast majority of those in support of the pipeline did not come of their own volition. Many of the statements of those in support of the pipeline were extremely dispassionate and terse. A number of them to the extent of, “My name is John Smith, and I’ve been a member of XXX union for four years. I support this pipeline… and…that’s all I have to say. Thank you.” But without fail, these comments were met with strong applause from people in the far back of the room.

A few of the union members did speak with more passion, but some their comments contained significant ad hominem attacks against those who oppose it; that they don’t understand the art of construction, the physicality of the pipelines, the comprehensiveness of their training, their excellent safety record, or the exacting standards to which the pipelines must be built. I tried to approach one of the more formally dressed of these people, but she refused to talk to me, stating that she needed to first find out more about my media organization/website.

Even if the pipeline station is perfectly constructed, even if they use only the highest quality materials, that does not change the fact that most catastrophic failures are caused by factors that are out of the construction company’s control. Materials decay, some of the soils in which the pipelines lay are acidic, the earth shifts, accidents happen (I don’t mean during construction, I mean during the lifetime of the pipeline). Not to mention that natural gas is explosive, radioactive, and poisonous. And as Fred LaVergne so succinctly put (at the 2 min 55 sec Mark), you don’t put these fires out, you evacuate and wait until it’s burned itself out.

Regarding safety record, residents are not concerned about safety during the months of construction, they’re concerned about the decades after construction ends.

One union gentleman said that he’d never heard of a pipeline breaking, “and besides, even if it did, it’s only natural gas, I don’t understand where this pollution is coming from.” As if the natural gas itself is not a pollutant.

People against the pipeline spoke of schools and homes and businesses all within a mile of the compressor station, all of which will bear the brunt of its blowdowns, which are supposed to happen a couple of times a year, but actually happen at least once a month. A handful of them said, “Why are we even here? Why is this hearing even happening? This should’ve been denied from the start.”

A worker in a juvenile detention center in the blast zone (if the pipeline bursts, the explosion will, at a minimum, breach the outer walls of the facility), wanted to know if there were any contingency plans of where to put these “wards of the state” in the case of the worst. She also noted that there is a regular jail that is also within the blast zone at some point along the pipeline’s route.

One child testified that their favorite animals were turtles, and that they don’t want the turtles to die. Another child said that he doesn’t want to drink poison water. He asked the panelists, “Do you want to drink poison water?” Another said that she wouldn’t be able to play soccer anymore.

Building these natural gas pipelines are not the only jobs available for union workers. Denying pipelines from existing would certainly be a catalyst in determining what those other jobs might be. But even if there were no other jobs, it is ob cene to risk the health and well-being, not to mention home values, of tens of thousands of residents, not to mention the likely devastating (and just plain likely) environmental impacts.

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