Katelyn Armbruster: Interview with Karen Feridun

Karen Feridun is the founder of Berks Gas Truth, a grassroots organization calling for a ban on fracking and related infrastructure. She is also the founder of 350 Berks and Lehigh Climate Action Group as well as a former board member of the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Association. She promotes sustainable energy alternatives while fighting against natural gas extraction. Her advocating and work on the subject of pipelines has contributed to the defeat of the Commonwealth Pipeline and proposed Gas-to-Liquids facility in Berks County. She also worked to fine Texas Eastern after it underreported what happened when one of their compressor stations blew up. Karen is currently working on stopping the PennEast, Mariner East, Columbia East Side Expansion pipelines and the two Ember Clear proposed natural gas power plants.

1. Are there enough regulations for pipelines? Why or why not?
No, there’s no such thing as enough regulation for pipelines. There are a lot of ways to answer this – pointing to inadequacies in the regulations themselves or the confused mess or the lack of enforcement of the regulations that are on the books, but those are problems that could conceivably be solved. In the end, however, the thing that can’t be solved is climate change. Every reputable climate scientist is telling us to leave 80% of all fossil fuels in the ground. New research from Drs. Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea at Cornell shows that methane is more of a contributor to climate change than originally believed. Natural gas is not a bridge fuel, it turns out. Therefore, we need to stop fracking and stop investing in infrastructure that will encourage continued drilling.

2. Is pipeline regulation, how it is set up today, effective in your opinion? How might it be better?
No, it's a joke. Currently, the PA DEP is leading a Pipeline and Infrastructure Task Force with the aim of “building public acceptance” of pipelines and drilling, so says our environment secretary, not the commerce secretary. As I said earlier, we need to stop fossil fuel extraction and consumption, so there’s no getting this right, but, in the short term, as people are being injured, killed, or put at risk, the regulations are not there to even provide minimal protection. Many miles of pipeline are unregulated, many are, but the regulations aren’t enforced. And Pennsylvania is trying to build public acceptance of this mess. By the way, I was at the task force meeting the other day where they were discussing the recommendations that had been put out in a draft report. The industry was balking, even though 92% of the non-governmental members of the task force are from the industry. The only guy who applied to be on it who even resembles me in the role I play was invited to be on a working group of the task force and was promptly disinvited a couple of days later when they found out who he was (even though he’d made no secret of it). They’re also stupid in Harrisburg.

3.What impacts do pipelines have on the communities? What about fracking?
There are truly too many to list. To provide a few, pipelines put communities at risk of failures like the one in Allentown a few years ago that took out a city block and killed seven people, I believe. Traditionally, the kind of pipeline incidents we heard about were those that occurred on distribution lines, the much thinner pipes that deliver gas to homes and businesses. That’s what happened in Allentown. I think it was a 4-inch pipeline. Interstate lines can be 42 inches in diameter, if not larger. Contrary to what people tend to think, those big pipelines run right through personal properties and communities. In 2010, the big transmission lines were responsible for more of the “significant incidents” than distribution lines for the first time ever. Significant incidents are those that cause damage to property, injury or death.

On a more typical day, the pipelines can corrode and develop leaks. Their presence can lower property values for homes directly affected and even homes that are close by. Pipelines leak a fair amount of toxins. Compressors emit toxins as part of normal operations. The blow- down I fought here wasn’t going to be investigated by DEP because the emissions the company reported matched the amount that would be released in a typical venting. In those cases, they don’t do anything. The numbers they reported were 61 tons of Volatile Organic Compounds. I’m certain they reported the numbers they did because they knew that numbers consistent with a typical venting would go unpunished. Exposure to those toxins causes a wide variety of illnesses, from headaches to some forms of cancer.

4. What is the best thing a community member can do to get involved with pipeline issues and why?
If someone is affected by a pipeline, the single best first step is to refuse to sign a survey agreement. We have a 70% refusal rate on the New Jersey side of the PennEast pipeline route and are building up the number on the Pennsylvania side, thanks to some volunteers working in their communities to explain that people can, not just deny, but rescind permission. What everyone can do, whether they’re directly affected, is to get involved in the many community groups fighting the pipeline. There are groups up and down the PennEast route people can get involved with. The groups do lots of local organizing, doing educational forums, posting yard signs and billboards, tabling at community events, getting petitions signed and staging protests.

And what everyone should do, even if they can’t get deeply involved, is comment on the FERC docket for the project to express their opposition. Stoppenneast.org is our website. You can get a ton of information there.

5. Are there any other resources you could tell me about?
Carolyn Elefant is an attorney we (Berks Gas Truth) work with down in D.C. She represents communities fighting pipelines, serves on the board of the Pipeline Safety Coalition, and is a former FERC employee. She wrote a great guide that should help you, although she is not an activist fighting to stop pipelines. Her guide advises people to agree to surveying, for instance, because she points out that a landowner can get valuable information about his or her property to use in a lawsuit down the road. There's nothing wrong with that, provided it's a thorough survey, but, tactically, it's better to refuse up front so that the company can't get enough agreements to get the go ahead from FERC. Access to properties is required to conduct environmental reviews. It can slow down a project so much that the company walks away. If the project moves forward, the landowner can always agree to the survey down the road. Having said that, it's an excellent guide with a great chart on page 17 that should be particularly helpful. http://lawofficesofcarolynelefant.com/wp- content/uploads/2010/06/FINALTAGguide.pdf

6. Is there anything else I didn’t cover that you might like to expand on or bring up?
Just wanted to mention that one huge problem of pipelines is the ROWs or construction right of ways that need to be maintained. Construction rights of way are quite wide, but temporary. Their temporary status doesn’t help much once trees have been cleared, but something can grow back over time. The permanent right of way that needs to be maintained is now much wider than it was in years past. Putting a permanent right of way through a forest creates two canopies where the once was one, disrupting the forest habitat. That’s just an example of the type of impact pipelines can have on natural resources. There are many. Communities fighting lines like the PennEast get very involved in protecting local resources and species as well as protecting their neighborhoods. The Commonwealth was going to run through the Hopewell Big Woods, the largest unbroken woodland in the southeast part of the state. The communities in that fight organized around protecting the Woods more than their own homes.