The Final Call
April 29, 2014
by Saeed Shabazz, Staff Writer
One month after a 127 year old natural gas pipeline exploded in East Harlem, killing eight people, reportedly injuring and leaving hundreds homeless, actviists are concerned that things will only get worse in New York City.
“We are concerned not just because the existing cast iron pipeline is old, but the outgoing mayor, Michael Bloomberg, signed a law that all apartment buildings must convert to natural gas by 2015 and that presents a serious danger,” Larry Littman, an environmental and housing activist told the Final Call.
On March 28th, activists representing the Chelsea Housing Coalition, People’s Power Assembly, Occo-Evolve, May 1st Coalition for Worker & Immigrants Rights and Parents to Improve School Transportation held a protest in front of the Harlem office of Consolidated Edison, the gas company that owns and maintains the pipeline.
The protestors said gas explosions don’t happen in the more affluent neighborhoods.
A tragedy like this is more likely to happen among working class neighborhoods and where Black, Latino, Asian and poor opeople live,” protestors said.
A 2012 report from a federal aagency, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, warned many of these deteriorating gaslines lie beheath streets in older high density urban areas.
According to agency data, the highest percentages of cast iron gas mains are in such cities as Philadelphis, with 50 percent, Boston, with 33 percent, and New York with 30 percent. The federal agency also listed 34 other states with obsolete cast iron lines. Some analysts say cast iron and wrought iron pipes are vulnerable to corrosion and should be replaced with polyetherene plastic pipe.
Observers say pipeline safety in the United States jas omcreased om recemt decades, but incidents involving natural gas pipelines still canse an average 17 fatalities and $133 million in property damage annually.
President Obana, according to activists, has taken note of the problem and issued March 28th a Climate Action Plan Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions, with a proposal in the 2015 federal budget for a $4.7 million program to develop technologies for leak detection and monitoring pipeline leak repairs.
Betsy Petite, a Philadelphis-based grassroots environmental justice advocate and an editor for Workers World Newspaper, told The Final Call there is a “pipeline break every day” in the U.S.particularly in the neighorhoods where people are not aware of what is being pumped under their streets.
“We are aware that regulations controlling the gas energy industry have been changing over the last three or four years but the information is not being connected to the problem in the urban areas, it gets buried,” Ms. Petite said.
Kim Fraxzek, coordinator for the New York-based Sane Energy Project, agrees Harlem residents are not aware of things such as a natural gas pipeline that runs from New Jersey, connecting at 135th Street.
Mr. Littman argues that the pipeline issue must be linked to the larger housing problem facing poor and low income New Yorkers. “Con Ed says that it would take three decades at a cost of $40 billion to replace the old pipeline in New York City, but in the meantime landlords are passing on the cost of the oiler conversion to rent-stabilized tenants, adding $100 a month to their rent,” he said.
This creates situations of incredible pressure for people on fixed incomes verses landlords who want to see higher paying tenants in their buildings,” said Msw Fraczek said.
Organizations that sponsored the recent protest want the National Transportation Safety Board to hold a community hearing and examine the environmental consequences of outdated pipelines.
In the meantime the NTSB removed a section of the pipeline found under the ground where the two buildings collapsed for further examination. Com Ed directed all media questions to the NTSB’s Washington D.C. office.