By Mathew Katz
CHELSEA — A pipeline under the West Village and Chelsea has won federal government approval to start pumping natural gas, prompting an outcry from residents and opponents who fear the project could cause an explosion and environmental contamination.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted permission last Thursday for the pipeline, built by Texas-based Spectra Energy, to be put into service on Nov. 1, according to a letter from commission director Lauren O'Donnell.
The companies behind the pipeline have "adequately stabilized areas disturbed by construction" and "restoration is proceeding satisfactorily," O'Donnell wrote.
However, residents have raised safety concerns about the pipeline, which will pump about 800 million cubic feet of Marcellus Shale natural gas into the city each day. The pipeline stretches from New Jersey under the Hudson River and enters Manhattan at 10th Avenue and Gansevoort Street, stretching up to 15th Street.
"It's so disappointing," Bill Borock, president of the Council of Chelsea Block Associations. "The gas companies say don't worry, but we don't have any assurances when big weather and flooding happens."
Residents and advocates said they are particularly worried that an explosion could occur if the pipeline, running beneath a densely populated area, is damaged.
"As supplies of gas from other sources runs out, a larger and larger percentage of the gas supplied to NYC will come from Marcellus sources," the organization wrote in an email to members.
The group held a rally outside of Chelsea Piers on Saturday, in the hopes of convincing officials to shut down the project.
Marylee Hanley, a Spectra spokeswoman, said that locals had little to worry about.
"Spectra Energy has been operating safely in the region for more than 60 years," she said. "The New York-New Jersey Expansion Project was built to meet or exceed all federal safety requirements and regulations."
The gas, which will travel 20 miles from a plant in Linden, N.J. into the city, will provide enough energy to heat about 2 million homes, Hanley said.
Con Edison, which will be distributing the gas to its Manhattan customers, directed questions about the pipeline to Spectra.
For Borock, the danger was not just immediate — he also pointed out that west Chelsea could see millions of square feet of new development.
With Hudson River Park set to sell its air rights, the area immediately around the pipeline could see increased development in the coming years — leaving more people vulnerable to a potential explosion, Borock said.
"You'll have more people living there, and God forbid something happens," he said.