Magazine article The New Yorker

Underfoot

Magazine article The New Yorker

Underfoot

Article excerpt

UNDERFOOT

--Andrew Marantz

On a recent Saturday morning, Corey Johnson sat in a downtown cafe trying to persuade his neighbors that hydrofracking isn't an issue that just concerns people in the boonies. Johnson, who is thirty-one, was recently elected to replace Christine Quinn as the City Council member from the Third District, which includes Hell's Kitchen, Chelsea, and the West Village. He was spreading the word about a brand-new pipeline that pumps fracked gas directly into the West Village.

"Are you sure?" a woman with a gray miniature poodle asked. "All you hear about fracking is that it's happening upstate and it's the worst thing ever."

Johnson told her that the project, by the Houston-based company Spectra Energy, had been approved in May of 2012 and was completed on November 1st. Thousands of miles of pipeline were already pumping natural gas throughout the East Coast, including New Jersey; this sixteen-mile extension now brings the gas across the Hudson and into Manhattan. "It was out of our control," he said. "Some meetings happened in Washington, D.C., and then the Hudson River Park Trust granted an easement, and that was that." (Opponents of the pipeline have pointed out that the trust is chaired by Diana Taylor, the girlfriend of the city's outgoing pro-fracking mayor.)

"I'm shocked," the poodle woman said.

"I was, too," Johnson said. His plan for the afternoon was to get arrested with other protesters as a form of civil disobedience.

"Good for you!" she said.

Earlier this year, an anti-fracking group posted a video to YouTube claiming that the West Village pipeline would bring in gas with high levels of radon, a carcinogen. It also showed footage from San Bruno, California, where a natural-gas pipeline exploded in 2010, killing eight people. "Can you imagine this happening in the West Village?" a voice-over asked. (Spectra Energy says that its pipes are stronger than the ones used in San Bruno. "Our project will provide safe, reliable gas, which will reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources," Marylee Hanley, a Spectra representative, says.)

According to the Sane Energy Project, another activist group, if the West Village pipe exploded, the hypothetical blast zone might include an Apple store, a Magnolia bakery, three Marc Jacobs stores, and the future site of the Whitney Museum. Dalaeja Foreman, a greeter at Milk Studios, on West Fifteenth Street, was unfamiliar with fracking; when it was explained to her, she made a face and said, sarcastically, "Cute. …

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