War of words
Gas pipeline company, opponents flood residents with information
by E. Assata Wright
Reporter staff writer
Apr 10, 2011 | 4061 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
APPEALING TO PUBLIC – In January Spectra mailed out this flier to residents, kicking off its Yes Gas Pipeline public relations campaign in Hudson County.
APPEALING TO PUBLIC – In January Spectra mailed out this flier to residents, kicking off its Yes Gas Pipeline public relations campaign in Hudson County.
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In recent weeks city residents have been the targets of a media war waged by both supporters and opponents of a proposed natural gas pipeline that is currently planned to be routed through Bayonne and Jersey City and near the southern border of Hoboken.

In one corner is Spectra Energy, the Houston-based company that wants to build the pipeline, and more than a dozen union groups. Spectra and the unions claim the pipeline will create thousands of much-needed jobs in the region.

In the other corner are activists and public officials who oppose the pipeline, arguing that it will create a safety hazard in the region that will negatively affect economic development.

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“We will continue to work with our state and federal legislators to build additional opposition.” – Mayor Jerremiah T.Healy

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In the middle are residents who increasingly find fliers in their mailboxes, robocall messages on their answering machines, and advocates carrying petitions on the streets.

Pushing back

If approved by the federal government, the 15.5-mile pipeline will carry 800 million cubic feet of natural gas per day through Hudson County to New York City customers of Con Edison.

Spectra began its resident-focused PR campaign in January after pipeline opponents launched the grassroots “No Gas Pipeline” website last year. Since the beginning of the year, Spectra has sent at least three mailers to Jersey City and Bayonne residents, and has partnered with union groups to create a pro-pipeline video that has been posted to the internet.

Among the unions that have endorsed the pipeline are the New York State AFL-CIO, the Building and Construction Trades Council of New York, the Chemistry Council of New Jersey, Laborers Local 731, the New Jersey State AFL-CIO, the Hudson County Board of Business Representatives, and the International Union of Operating Engineers Locals 825 and 15.

“We wanted to make sure the public was informed about the project and its substantial benefits to the community,” said company spokesman Tim White last week. “We have focused some aspects of our outreach in Jersey City, but we are very involved in other communities along the proposed pipeline route as well.”

One flier mailed recently touts job creation among the pipeline’s benefits. On the flier Spectra states the project “will create more than 5,000 regional jobs...including more than 2,300 in Jersey City alone.”

The remaining 2,700 regional jobs could be created in Bayonne, Linden, or Manhattan.

While pipeline critics have scoffed at the numerical estimate and at the claims of the pipeline benefiting residents, White said the benefits should not be brushed aside.

Pointing to a study done by Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Public Policy, White said, “Hudson County residents will benefit from additional jobs, additional tax relief, lower energy bills, and cleaner air. The pipeline will increase the capability to deliver natural gas to New Jersey leading to reduced energy bills, potential for conversions from coal and oil to cleaner burning natural gas and substantial property tax benefits to the region on an annual basis once the pipeline is placed in-service.”

One of the criticisms of the pipeline is that, as currently planned, it will provide natural gas to customers in New York, not New Jersey. But White said the company has reached out to “power generators and other end users along the pipeline route to explore…interconnection possibilities” for Garden State residents.

In an earlier mailer the company responded to residents’ safety concerns about the project, noting the pipeline “will be made of thick, modern steel [and will be] monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week to ensure safety.”

The company, which is obviously geared up for a big public relations battle to win support for the pipeline, includes on the mailer a toll-free number so interested residents can learn about “additional…ways to support the project.”

Critics not to be outdone

Spectra’s stepped-up outreach to local residents has not gone unnoticed by pipeline critics, who have also increased their grassroots efforts.

Opponents successfully used such social media tools as Facebook, Twitter, and old fashioned e-mail to encourage residents to file for “intervenor status” with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the agency that must approve Spectra’s plans before the pipeline can be built.

Being an “intervenor” gives anyone who files for the status the right to sue the federal government if the pipeline is approved.

And the opposition continues to circulate its “No Gas Pipeline” fliers in downtown businesses and at places like the Loews Theater in Journal Square.

Downtown resident Devin Card said he has signed up to help others in the community oppose the pipeline and plans to volunteer some time to the No Gas Pipeline effort.

“You see what happened in California. Who would want a gas pipeline running underneath their house or wherever they live?” he asked.

Last September eight people were killed and dozens were injured in San Bruno, Calif. after a natural gas pipeline exploded there, destroying an entire residential neighborhood.

Card said he plans to build opposition by handing out anti-pipeline fliers later this month outside the Loews and by hosting a showing in his home of the film “Gasland,” a 2010 documentary about natural gas extraction.

“While we don’t have the millions of dollars that Spectra does to hire lobbyists and public relations firms, or to spend on television ads and glossy mailers, we do have the ability to talk directly to the people of Jersey City on a daily basis about why we are opposed to this natural gas pipeline coming to our city,” said Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy last week.

Healy is among several Hudson County and New Jersey public officials who oppose Spectra’s plans.

“We can also take official action, which we feel has an even stronger impact, such as filing for intervenor status and having the City Council adopt a resolution opposing this pipeline,” Healy said.

“We will continue to work with our state and federal legislators to build additional opposition,” he added. “Currently, we are airing a piece on local television with our experts discussing the impact this pipeline would have on homeland security, our aging infrastructure, and future economic development. Our research shows that if this pipeline is built in Jersey City, future residential and commercial development would not be built, sacrificing thousands of construction and permanent jobs for Jersey City residents. We will continue our media outreach on these issues and through our partnership with organizations such as NoGasPipeline.org.”

White said he “cannot determine” how much money Spectra has committed to the pro-pipeline PR campaign since the effort is ongoing.

FERC could render a decision on the pipeline by the end of this year.

E-mail E. Assata Wright at awright@hudsonreporter.com.

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