A federal wildlife agency is calling for detailed studies to make sure cherished wildlife isn’t disturbed if the Constitution Pipeline proposal is approved.
And it isn’t just the impact to existing animals that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is concerned with if the Constitution Pipeline disturbs about 1,500 acres of land and retains 700 acres for operation of the pipeline.
Major construction projects can also lead to the unwanted spread of invasive species, according to an Oct. 5 letter issued to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service field supervisor David A. Stilwell.
Stilwell outlines additional topics beyond the general impacts FERC announced it would study under the environmental review. Plans call for a 30-inch gas pipeline stretching for 120 miles beneath rural and residential land from Pennsylvania up to the town of Wright in Schoharie County. The pipeline is a joint venture of Williams Partners and Cabot Oil and Gas.
The letter arrived just days before today’s deadline set by FERC to receive input and suggestions on what environmental issues should be studied.
For one, the USFWS is urging FERC to request a more thorough review of the possibility of using existing pipelines to get the gas to market, thereby avoiding the need for another pipeline.
The company proposing the pipeline has said that existing pipelines would not be adequate.
“It is not yet clear where the demand is for the gas that is being extracted in Pennsylvania. Nor has it been explained how the existing pipeline infrastructure fails to provide adequate service,” Stilwell wrote in the letter.
“We are aware of several proposed and existing gas pipeline projects which deliver natural gas from Pennsylvania to New York (Tennessee Gas 300, Stage Coach to Millennium, Texas Eastern). The FERC should require a more thorough review of these projects as alternatives for delivering gas to southeast New York,” the letter states.
In September, FERC announced its environmental review would study geology and soils, land use, water resources, fisheries and wetlands, vegetation and wildlife and endangered and threatened species.
But the impact of construction on the spread of invasive species is another topic that should be studied as well, Stilwell said in the letter.
The invasive algae didymo, also called “rock snot,” was discovered this summer in the Schoharie Creek and agencies have also been working to battle the aggressive purple loosestrife plant that’s choking out native plants and threatening to harm local wildlife that depends on them.
“Movement of construction equipment and soil disturbance can increase the likelihood that invasive plant species will become established in the project area or nearby areas,” the letter states.
Invasives are “often” spread by construction projects, and the USFWS seeks a survey of invasive species performed in and around all areas Constitution Pipeline is proposing to build, Stilwell wrote.
In the event the pipeline is approved after invasive species are identified in the project area, USFWS wants measures identified that could prevent the spread of unwanted plants and animals such as cleaning off construction equipment before moving it between work areas.
“Monitoring post-construction conditions can also serve as a way to ensure that no invasive plants become established,” Stilwell wrote.
The USFWS is urging FERC and Constitution Pipeline to also map out the different migratory bird species’ use of land in the proposed pipeline’s corridor.
The USFWS is expressing concern for one species that’s making a comeback from the brink of extinction in New York — the Bald Eagle — and a species heading in the other direction — bats that have come under attack from a newly discovered fungus that created “white nose syndrome.”
Stilwell in the letter states that the agency has already asked for a review of existing habitat for the Indiana bat — listed federally as endangered — and put FERC on notice that three other bat species — little brown, northern long-eared and Eastern small-footed — are currently being reviewed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.
All are under attack by the white-nose syndrome, first discovered in a cave in Schoharie County.
Several pipeline construction routes that are proposed would cross large tracts of forests, which brings up concern for native animals that can be harmed by the loss of large swaths of forest, called fragmentation, the USFWS letter states.
Black bears, northern goshawk, scarlet tanager and ovenbirds, among others, suffer reduced habitat quality by forest fragmentation, Stilwell wrote.
“Fragmentation of forest not only results in habitat loss, but also can lead to reduction in habitat quality, isolation of individuals, reduced occupancy, reproduction, or survival in a particular species,” Stilwell wrote.
“In summary, we recommend FERC and the applicant provide a rigorous environmental review of the Constitution Pipeline Project prior to project approval,” Stilwell writes.
Constitution Pipeline spokesman Christopher Stockton said in an email Monday the company views the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s comments as the agency doing its job.
“The letter touches on all of the various environmental components that fall under USFWS review,” Stockton said.
“It is not surprising for the agency to ask the FERC to make sure the new pipeline infrastructure is warranted and that a thorough analysis of the environmental impacts for all viable alternatives is conducted,” Stockton said.