Puerto Rico: opposition mounts to gas pipeline

Two US Congress members, Reps. RaĂşl M. Grijalva (D-AR) and Luis GutiĂ©rrez (D-IL), are seeking signatures from their colleagues on a letter to US president Barack Obama about a proposed natural gas pipeline in Puerto Rico. “At a time when we should be promoting renewable, clean energy throughout the country, a 92-mile pipeline—nearly as long as the entire island—is a step in the wrong direction,” the representatives wrote in the letter, which has been endorsed by Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). The project (“Gasoducto” in Spanish) shouldn’t proceed without an environmental impact statement conducted by the US Corps of Engineers, according to Grijalva and GutiĂ©rrez. (El Nuevo DĂ­a, Guaynabo, July 12)

The activity in Congress reflects growing opposition to the $450 million project, which would carry imported natural gas from the Peñuelas-Guayanilla area on the southwest coast to a place near San Juan on the north coast.

Rightwing governor Luis Fortuño of the New Progressive Party (PNP) Is promoting the Gasoducto as a way to transition from oil to natural gas; pipeline advocates say this will save $60-$100 million a year, about one-third of the cost of generating Puerto Rico’s electricity. But on July 13 the People’s House (“Casa Pueblo”), a respected environmental organization based in the town of Adjuntas, released a study suggesting that any savings would be offset by environmental damage and risks to the 200,000 people who live near the area the pipeline will pass through. Critics also note that the biggest contractor for the project, Pedro Ray ChacĂłn, has no experience with this type of operation; he is said to be personally close to Gov. Fortuño. (People’s World, July 21)

On July 22 the New York daily El Diario-La Prensa ran an editorial opposing the pipeline and calling on “Puerto Ricans outside the island…to express their concerns.” (ED-LP, July 22) The paper is the main Spanish-language periodical in New York City, which has a large population of Puerto Ricans and people of Puerto Rican descent, including two members of Congress.

Adding to the Gasoducto’s problems, in a letter dated July 12 the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) refused to let the EcoElĂ©ctrica company proceed with planned modifications to its terminal in southern Puerto Rico until the company complies fully with FERC regulations. The modifications are necessary if the terminal is to handle the liquefied gas when it arrives in Puerto, so this delay will in turn delay use of natural gas in electricity generation at least until 2012. (Claridad, Puerto Rico, July 19)

An opinion poll published by the daily El Nuevo DĂ­a in March indicated that 56% of the population wasn’t convinced that the Gasoducto would lower the costs of electricity, with only 27% thinking that it would; 17% were undecided. An overwhelming 61% of the people polled said they were concerned about the safety of pipeline, while just 19% expressed confidence. The poll was carried out by The Research Office, Inc., a company based in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, from March 7 to March 14. El Nuevo DĂ­a noted that that this period included the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated a nuclear power plant in Japan—at a time when Puerto Ricans were still concerned about a January 2010 earthquake that hit southern Haiti, some 400 miles to the west. (END, March 27, April 1)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 24.

See our last post on Puerto Rico.