Construction on a pipeline that will bring fracked natural gas under the Hudson and into the West Village was halted for two hours Wednesday when George Pingeon, a member of the opposition group Occupy the Pipeline, chained himself to a backhoe on the construction site.
Opponents have been fighting the pipeline since it received approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in May, escalating their tactics once construction on the Manhattan side of the 16-mile pipeline began this summer.
A controversial agreement between Spectra and the Hudson River Park Trust, currently the subject of a lawsuit, allows Spectra to bring the pipeline ashore at the Gansevoort Pier.
Spectra has to complete that phase of construction by the end of the month, when the pier is needed to store road salt, but protesters have been doing everything they can to keep the company from finishing by the deadline. Several protesters chained themselves to construction equipment in September, and a few weeks later activists tried to raise awareness about the pipeline and its backers by staging a dance party in hazmat suits in the lobbies of Chase, Citibank, and Wells Fargo. Two weeks ago, they took their clothes off, painted themselves green, and performed a butoh dance.
In contrast to those actions, Wednesday’s action was unplanned, activists say.
“We had no idea he was going to do this and neither did he,” said Patrick Robbins, a spokesman for Occupy the Pipeline.
Pingeon was photographing the construction site, when he became dismayed at the speed with which it was progressing, Robbins said. “He said, ‘That’s it, hold my stuff,’ and he went in and locked himself to the backhoe.”
Two hours later, Pingeon, 27, had given himself up for arrest, and construction on the pipeline resumed.
Robbins said opponents of the pipeline will continue to fight it, citing both objections to source of the pipeline’s gas — the hydrofracking of the Marcellus Shale in New York and Pennsylvania — and concerns that unlike other hydrofracked gas that travels hundreds of miles before reaching New York, the Spectra pipeline will be carrying gas so fresh that it may still be suffused with dangerous radon.
“The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the body that is in theory supposed to regulate fossil fuels, didn’t even examine the question of radon,” Robbins said. “FERC is bought and paid for the energy industry. There hasn’t been any meaningful review of the risks that this poses in such a densely populated area.”