Will a New High-Pressure Gas Line Help New Yorkers—Or Blow Them Up?

Pipe Bomb

From the window of her apartment on Bethune Street, Ynestra King can look out across the West Side Highway to the playground where she plays with children in her family, to the Hudson River, and beyond it, New Jersey. She can also see the place where a massive new pipeline carrying highly pressurized natural gas rises out of the river, carrying its explosive payload into the heart of the meatpacking district.

"It makes me very uneasy," King says. "I can't feel safe and comfortable in my home again. There's an established blast zone for when something goes wrong with this kind of technology, and I live inside it."

The pipeline, built by subsidiaries of Spectra Energy, runs about 16 miles from Staten Island, through New Jersey, and under the Hudson before surfacing in the West Village. Pipeline advocates say it will create construction jobs and help supply New York with natural gas, which burns cleaner than some heating oils.

An opponent of the Spectra pipeline clambered over a backhoe last summer in an effort to delay construction.
Courtesy Occupy the Pipeline
An opponent of the Spectra pipeline clambered over a backhoe last summer in an effort to delay construction.
In 2010, a pipeline the same size and pressure as the one being 
built in Manhattan blew up in 
San Bruno, California, destroying 
38 homes.
National Transportation Safety Board
In 2010, a pipeline the same size and pressure as the one being built in Manhattan blew up in San Bruno, California, destroying 38 homes.

Not everyone is convinced of the need for these pipelines. Demand for natural gas is at a low. Opponents of hydro-fracking worry that running this new pipeline, straight from the fracking wells of the Marcellus shale, helps to create a market for a dangerous product.

But leaving aside those environmental arguments, there's an even more immediate concern: Pipelines like this have a disturbing tendency to explode.

In December, a pipeline exploded in Sissonville, West Virginia, leveling four homes, badly damaging several others, and melting a nearby section of Interstate 77. A week before that, a pipe explosion in Goldsmith, Texas, sent a fireball 250 feet into the air, hurling bowling-ball-size rocks through the air. Two weeks before that, a leaky gas line detonated in Springfield, Massachusetts, flattening a strip club and blowing out windows in buildings for blocks around. The list continues.

In 2011, the last year for which there are complete statistics, there were 82 "significant incidents" involving natural gas transmission lines, according to the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Those "incidents" alone resulted in $95 million in property damage.

Perhaps the most famous gas-line explosion in recent history took place in 2010, when a high-pressure transmission line, comparable in size and pressure to the Spectra project, exploded in a suburban subdivision in San Bruno, California, leveling 35 houses and damaging many more. The explosion registered with the U.S. Geological Survey as a 1.1 magnitude earthquake, and it carved out a crater 167 feet long and four stories deep. Amazingly, only eight people died.

But as long and disturbing as the list of natural-gas-pipeline disasters is, none of those catastrophes are particularly relevant to the Spectra pipeline, because none of them happened in a place nearly as densely populated as Manhattan or Jersey City. Until recently, no one was trying to run pipelines like this into urban neighborhoods.

To be clear, we're not talking about the distribution lines that bring natural gas to your home, typically two-inch pipes with pressure around 10 pounds per square inch. If you mess with one of those while digging in your front yard, you'll have a small but perfectly respectable explosion.

This isn't like that at all. It's a transmission line, 30 inches in diameter, running at pressures well in excess of that of a fire hose. When these things blow, they blow the fuck up.

"We talked to an expert, an engineer with substantial experience, who told us that at the top end, we could be looking at a crater and other damage that's close to a third of a mile in diameter," says Derek Fanciullo, the assistant corporation counsel for the Jersey City Department of Law. "We have 15,000 to 17,000 people living in a square mile. The human damage and the real property damage if this thing were to explode would be almost incalculable. It's not just the crater: the heat radiates out along the surface of the ground, and these explosions are so hot that if you try to bring emergency vehicles out to the area, those vehicles would melt."

Running this pipeline under the city, the consultant told officials, would be like putting a small-grade neutron bomb beneath the streets.

From Jersey City, the pipeline runs east under the Hudson, resurfacing at the Gansevoort Peninsula in Hudson River Park, currently the home of Sanitation Department trucks and the FDNY's Fire Boat headquarters. Running the pipeline where an explosion would likely take out the fireboat needed to bring it under control might seem like bad planning, especially compounded with the fact that a serious blast could also take out the water main that feeds nearby hydrants, as happened in the San Bruno blast.

It doesn't stop there. A few hundred feet south of where the pipeline makes landfall—I am not making this up—is the Pier 51 playground, frequented by the sometimes adorable and always flammable children of the neighborhood.

How is this possible? Aren't there any responsible adults in a position to rule out corporate projects whose risks have been compared to disaster-movie plot devices? The answer to that question, remarkably, is no.

Natural gas pipelines are governed by a complex patchwork of regulatory agencies, but it's a patchwork with plenty of holes. When a transmission line crosses state borders, it falls under the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, whose authority trumps any state or local regulations. But while FERC produces a lengthy Environmental Impact Statement, it's minimally concerned with human safety. In the thousands of pages of its impact statement for the Spectra project, FERC regulators determined, reassuringly and at length, that the project would have negligible impact on wetlands, fisheries, migratory birds, aquifers, and a small plant known as the small whorled pogonia.

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Will this article leave a positive impact on bystanders and workers of all industry, domestic and global? I believe not. It was obviously written by someone who knows very little about the industry beside other lost activists oblivious to this progressive answer (CNG.)  This answer is cleaner than what is generating YOUR power right NOW.  It is a global civil need.  Imagine it as relieving Earths farts before they turn into tar and really make a mess.


First of all, please keep Pinto on your staff. You can almost see the expression on his face by his choice of words - "blow the fuck up" indeed! - and imagine him shaking his head in disbelief, as did we who have been engaged in the fight against fracking, Spectra and radon for some years now. And second, thank you for covering this important story - this is the Village Voice as I remember it. Sadly, it's too hard to get the most important, essential information out there, life and death issues lost in the miasma of irrelevant trivia (or personal tragedies) that passes for our news. Everything I've seen in these comments is sharply targeted and helps to fill in more of the story, including the fact that fracked gas is a dirty extreme fuel that spews carbon into the atmosphere at a rate even faster than coal, and our own Marcellus shale highly radioactive at that. With people in our city still reeling from Hurricane Sandy, a strange storm that hit us so viciously because the oceans are too warm and the air too wet, we must make the connection between fossil fuels, including "natural" gas, and the exponential rate of thinning of the Arctic ice, the loss of countless species every day, many more of which were not even identified before they disappeared (we're in the middle of the sixth major extinction on Earth), the methane plumes shooting off the coast of Siberia and being flared off oil drilling sites in North Dakota, nine of the hottest years on record occuring in the past decade, rainfall in Saudi Arabia in 109 degree weather and other catastrophic weather events making top news every day, and carbon in our atmosphere at its highest in 15 million years. I tell you, with all that, it's been hard for me to concentrate on the love lives of the Kardashians and the delusions of heartbroken football players.


AT LAST, some NYC coverage of the issue that's been consuming us in Jersey City for the past two years. The more you know about this project, the less you sleep. You can write the future headlines yourself.


Thanks for this newscoverage-- about time.  If I lived in NYC I would ask anybody who has anything to say about piping Marcellus gas from nearby Pa, please show me the radon concentration at the wellhead because that unconventional drilling goes horizontal along the somewhat radioactive rock that gives off not only methane but also radon from the radium in the rock.  That radon will arrive in your unvented kitchen before it has a chance to decay because the half life is 3.8 days and Pa is so close to NYC and can deliver much quicker than from the Gulf.  I asked that of the FERC before they approved f the pipeline - a reasonable request to simply test.  FERC dismissed it as something they are not concerned about the quality of the gas just the pipeline. Keep on asking folks, radon causes more lung cancer than anything other than smoking but then-- that will take time so maybe everybody is just forgetting about it as it is in the future-- like asbestos was also in the future when they delivered it from one mine in Libby Montana via railroad into every school- then it had to be dug out of the schools at great expense.  Keep demanding that the radiation in the Marcellus gas needs to be evaluated.


Thank you for being the first mainstrean NYC paper to cover all of these issues.  It's about ttime the public was made aware of this problem.  Great Work!  I will keep watching your paper for more articles like this.

rally4justice_ like.author.displayName 1 Like

Great piece. Thanks for the Jersey City mention since they are the only City against the project.

The EIS paid for via the applicant Spectra Energy due to NEPA National Environmental Policy Act not being hip to the reality that the applicant controls FERC. Permitting the applicant to control is equal to allowing the Un Sustainable energy industry to prevail. 

Every component of FRACing for gas is destructive to human, enviro and economic health. Gas is Methane the most potent heat trapping GHG greenhouse gas. Methane wins the GHG toxicity contest.

Spectra Energy infrastructure and Chesapeake Energy fracker both violate laws and cannot get qualified Risk of Loss insurance. The jobs claim is more industry mendacity. Combustible Methane pipelines explode and leak known as LUG loss of unaccounted for gas on a regular basis. All the carcinogenic gunk that is left over is non biodegradable. 

The NJ NY Expansion Project technical name. I deem the project Bloomberg's LuV Child. The project also includes increasing the size of them smaller 2 inch lines for greater seismic pressure and more hazardous explosions.

 FERC and DOT both cater to the Un Sustainable energy industry. 

Christine Quinn did ask about a Con Ed EIS in her FERC filing and she did nothing to follow up on an EIS. Otherwise she is willfully MIA. Wake Up Christine and smell the Radon. Con Ed does not need an EIS. Your family is comfy cozy with Con Ed in charge OR at extreme risk. I'll go with at extreme risk.

The building mentioned in the last paragraph has a Tenant's Committee and the Committee's leader was informed by me of this massive seismic Methane project 2 years ago. The Tenant's Committee leader has done nothing.

FUN FACT Export. The potential that the project's Methane will be exported is extremely high. NY Harbor will be converted into an export terminal.

SaneEnergyProject.org is the volunteer coalition of experts dedicated to protecting preserving human, enviro and economic health. 

jcorey like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Even new pipelines fail. I live in Broome County, where the new Millenium pipeline had to be shut down for repairs - in January - due to substandard pipe and welds. People along the Spectra have every right to be scared about this project and its safety.

There are also many concerns about the safety of the fracked Marcellus gas itself. Beyond the environmental pollution and industrialization that are concerns in my area along the NY/PA border, there are the larger issues of proper disposal of hazardous wastes and the dangers of the radon content of the gas that will be heading into businesses and homes without the long holding times that allow much of the radon to decay before reaching consumers.  http://www.grassrootsinfo.org/pdf/whitereport.pdf http://www.nirs.org/radiation/radonmarcellus.pdf  http://www.damascuscitizensforsustainability.org/2012/05/new-yorkers-to-have-radon-with-dinner/


@jcorey  Yes this article is focused on the safety issues but the radon issue is of particular concern for NYC residents, because this pipeline will bring fracked, high-radon gas directly into our stoves (and clothes dryers and boilers), and here in NY we have TINY and usually poorly ventilated kitchens, increasing the chance we'll inhale radon when we cook or do laundry. Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. That's why we are running a Citizen Radon Testing Program. Get everyone you know in the 5 boroughs to sign up today (especially good to do while it's so COLD!!) The Second Annual NYC Citizen Radon Test Begins! |

lopekix like.author.displayName 1 Like

Thank you for your informative article, specially for mentioning how frequently similar pipelines have exploded in recent years. It is hard to believe, that something of such a damaging potential can be built without the knowledge of nearby residents. 

For more information visit: foodandwaterwatch.org, saneenergyproject.org, nyagainstfracking.org

annnorth like.author.displayName 1 Like

Thank you (I think) for this terrifying report. Bloomberg is a monster. Please keep bringing us news on this issue.

pfr123 like.author.displayName 1 Like

Thank you for your excellent article.  You only missed one thing:  Clare Donohue and the Sane Energy Project and the active citizen participation that has taken place against the Spectra pipeline.  CD began the fight against Spectra several years ago and the website for SEP has invaluable information.  As is said in other comments, one of the most frightening aspects of the Spectra pipeline is the fact that Spectra has been able to move swiftly forward without citizens understanding the dangers to themselves and to this city.   Living here, we accept that there are many stresses on our health, what is difficult to understand, and to accept, is the fact that those in power refuse to intervene when a clear and obvious danger threatens.  Sugar drinks: No!  Radon: Yes!   Methane: Yes!  Unforgivable and irresponsible.

mhealy1234 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Yes, even if this Spectra pipeline never blows, it could still kill us. It will be carrying dangerously high levels of radioactive Radon directly into our tiny Manhattan kitchens…also any restaurant using gas, and, if your co-op board is considering switching away from No. 6 heating oil and to gas, your building boiler room too.

Gas from the Marcellus shale just naturally has Radon-222 levels up to 70 times higher than gas found in other shale deposits. And the Spectra pipeline will speed Marcellus gas from nearby Pennsylvania wellheads directly to our burners in half a day—way less than the month-or-more that would be needed for the Radon to deplete to levels the EPA deems acceptable. By some estimates this level of Radon exposure, could be expected to cause 30,000 deaths annually in NYS. Radon is the number one cause of lung cancer in non-smokers.

But don’t take my word for it. Hear it explained by Al Appleton, former Commissioner of Environmental Protection at NYC Department of Environmental Protection: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vMyvmX3uZA&feature=youtu.be

sandrakoponen like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

I have been actively opposing the Spectra Pipeline since August, even being arrested twice at the Spectra site. (That was covered in The Villager in Septemer).

It is dismaying that so few people in the Village are even aware that this high pressure pipeline is being built in their neighborhood and more shocking still that so few people are aware of the dangers of fracking.  Our water supply is sure to be contaminated and scarcity of potable water will be the issue of this century. Further, methane contributes far more to global warming than the "natural" gas companies would have people believe.

Please see Gasland and join the opposition to fracking in NYS and these pipelines before it's too late!!! 


It further boggles the mind that an individual so utterly concerned with public health that he would restrict the individual intake of tobacco and soda - individual and voluntary choices, mind you - would be so brazen and senseless as to directly increase demand for fracked gas, and pipe the higher-radon gas into NYC. WTF???

Even Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President publicly opposed to fracking, stood by helplessly and signed off on the Spectra Pipeline.

Frackistanski like.author.displayName 1 Like

The ramrod penetration of NYC with this monstrosity is the stupidest, unhealthiest and most dangerous Bloomberg action ever. He has been co-opted by George Mitchell, the Texan godfather of fracking, and together they push for the "sensible center". But there is no sensible center when it comes to modern hydrofracking - and the major infrastructure which promotes, transports and supports it.

It boggles the mind that Bloomberg, a presumably intelligent MIT graduate, believes any of the industry talking points. Natural gas is a dirty fuel, and fugitive methane is >20x as potent as carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Fracking irreversibly contaminates water and air. And as stated, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, and the evidence suggests that the radon concentration piped through this giant bong into our homes, kitchens and restaurants will be significantly higher than what it is now.

For what is the use of reducing particulate in the air (by retrofitting the boilers of certain buildings) if the tradeoff is one dirty source for another? Won't the number of asthma cases reduced be greatly offset by new lung cancers?

traumakitten like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 4 Like

When I first moved downtown in fall 2011, I remember running into a bunch of activists on Hudson Street handing out hot pink flyers to alert the West Village and the city at large about the pipeline, fracking, radon. It seemed like a hoax for all the apocalyptic weight it carried. Then I saw Gasland, Split Estate and began reeling over the stories of people across America who had lost everything-- their health, property values, homes, and some for a pittance. Apparently not everyone makes a fortune on gas. Some make pennies. A lot of New Yorkers still have no clue about this. Good job, Voice. Keep covering it. I don't want to blow up.

AndesNY like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 4 Like

Tom Lehrer comes to mind...

"Oh, we'll all go together when we go, all suffused in an incandescent glow..."

He was talking about the big bomb, but hey, who needs nuclear warfare when you can have your very own gas pipeline through your neighborhood?

Great article, oh Voice, please keep them coming! We need all of the independent reporting we can get on the gas industry. (And the "sometimes adorable, always flammable children" line is priceless.)

This global shale gas explosion (metaphoric at this point) is the largest land grab in the history of the planet. It's not about cheap fuel for Americans. (Read up on LNG export pressure.) It's not about cleaner-than-coal. (Read up on methane levels with shale gas production.) It's not about anything other than huge profits for a group of international corporations that increasingly aren't even based in the US. At the expense of our health and safety - from the well heads destroying rural New York to the pipelines putting our cities at risk. 

Maybe this really is the big bomb...

woldoggie like.author.displayName 1 Like

Excellent reporting--thanks for this article that covers pretty much all of the relevant points. Now the question arises: what are we going to do about it? 

Editors, Mr. Pinto, please don't let the issue drop here. Only public outrage will prevent that radon-laden gas from flowing out of the raped state of Pennsylvania, through Jersey City, under the Hudson, the kids' playground, the Whitney Annex, up Broadway and into our kitchens via gas stoves. 

Please keep the information coming until thousands of New Yorkers get it that really, we're not safe in our beds if this project isn't quashed, especially if those beds are in the Chelsea  blast area. 

If your readers want to know more, check out saneenergyproject.org for plenty of info and ways to get involved.

thor800 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 4 Like

Spectra board member Nora Brownell is a former FERC Commissioner.

Could they have asked for less from Spectra before approving their proposal ?  Most people that live in Jersey City still have no idea about the pipeline and are shocked / confused / stupefied that something like this could be built and approved without any consent of the city.  

The issue shouldn't be that discussion would result in delay of construction - that is the point.  Companies should have the burden of proving that these pipelines will not negatively impact the communities they are invading.  Not vice versa.  


Megamind like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 4 Like

Well, that's terrifying. And it comes as no surprise that Bloomberg has once again exploited his relationship with his girlfriend to foist his myopic and self-serving plans upon New Yorkers. And naturally, Quinn is his accomplice in this diabolical effort to keep New York City tethered to fossil fuels and to turn the West Village into a giant powder-keg. Mayor Bloomberg, you are truly a bureaucrat's bureaucrat!  

twodogs2 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 6 Like

This is the last thing New York City needs or wants - keep up the excellent reporting!

hhcajr like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 6 Like

Even if New Yorkers escape a pipeline explosion, they face the uncertain threat of naturally-occurring radioactive materials from Marcellus gas, radon chief among them. The Spectra will be the most direct and fastest route from the gas fields in Pennsylvania, conducting fresh, NORM-bearing  gas into the kitchens and basements of residents, not to mention the restaurants, cafeterias, schools, hospitals, and every other establishment that cooks or heats with gas.

After smoking, radon nationally is the main cause of lung cancer, and it is especially prevalent in the Marcellus Shale. Upstate New Yorkers are accustomed to routine testing of their basements for this naturally occurring carcinogen, but the additional danger of releasing it from thousands of feet underground and pumping it into New York residences can't be certain for years, if not decades. 

The politicians, industrialists, and financiers who have discarded the precautionary principle and are inflicting this threat may be dead or retired (as usual) by the time the impacts register, but their children, ours, and the young will inherit their dubious legacy.

More on the threat of radon here:


youaskedforit like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 7 Like

No. No. NO! This is nothing more than another dangerous and useless infrastructure that will be obsolete in a very few years, at the expense of public health and safety (Since we supposed to heading towards renewables, right?). Plus it will increase the demand for FRACKED gas (Google 'fracking' and be horrified), which will not only endanger everyone who works in a kitchen environment (hello, all CHEFS, people who eat in restaurants and families that cook) with carcinogenic Radon but it will ultimately lead to the irreparable contamination of NYC's water supply by the millions of gallons of poisons that fracking pumps into the ground.

Wake up Bloomberg, you are so short-sighted, it is criminal- How exactly were you able to amass billions? You're supposed to so concerned with climate change- how do you justify making those kinds of statements and then push this kind of project? You are out of touch with reality, if you and your ilk think you're above being affected by the whole insidious, lying, cheating, corrupt, toxic gas industry. Oh wait, you're right at home.

PS: Added extra! Art Lovers BEWARE: The central 'hub' where this unnecessary pipeline enters the city is located directly under the vault of the new Whitney Annex they're building in the West Village- A couple of weeks ago a pipeline (a third SMALLER than this one) exploded in W.V. - it CARMELIZED 1800' of adjacent black top. Can anyone say D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R in the making? Who is insuring the PRICELESS works of art that will now be at risk?

saneenergy like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 8 Like

Excellent summing up of the issues and the bizarre parallel universe that is our "regulatory" system.  Spectra paid for its own environmental impact statement (EIS), and not only is that outrageous action NOT illegal, it is, in fact, the standard practice. As Mr. Pinto points out, the environmental review looked exhaustively at how construction would impact endangered species, archeological sites, and roadways, but spent not a paragraph on the effect a fiery explosion would have on a human being. When confronted with citizen comments which expressed fear of explosion, suggestions for alternative energy, outright opposition and requests that the pipeline not be approved, FERC's responses (codified in the EIS, you can look it up) was that not approving the pipeline would not serve the "interests of the applicant." (The applicant is Spectra Energy.) How's that for democracy?

Megamind like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

@saneenergy "Would not serve the interests of the applicant"? Megamind mega-blown!

donnymoss like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 5 Like

Christine Quinn has presided over the destruction of the West Side of Manhattan (Spectra pipeline, NYU expansion, St. Vincent's Hospital, illegal BRC megashelter, Spring Street garage and salt shed,  Chelsea Market upzoning) in order to appease Bloomberg and pay back her real estate developer donors.  And she has used millions in discretionary funds to buy support in the district to counteract the criticism.   If Bloomberg wasn't protecting Quinn, his chosen successor, then she would probably have been convicted in the slush fund scandal.  Or she would have been forced out when the Village Voice reported that she had over 30 Council staffers working on her 2009 campaign.

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