The Controversy behind the Natural Gas Pipeline in Puerto Rico

By: Cecilia Monclova

The rise in crude oil prices has caused an energy crisis in Puerto Rico. The Caribbean Island gets 68 percent of its power from crude oil. To solve this dependence on oil, Governor Luis Fortuño intends to establish a gas pipeline across the island.

The idea of this gas pipeline “is to move away from our dependence on oil,” said the Governor to New York Times. The gas pipeline has an initial investment of $450 million in a 92 miles pipeline that crosses the island from Peñuelas, Adjuntas and so on to San Juan.

This energy project has many criticism and oppositions from diverse sectors of the community, both professionals and ordinary citizens. The community organization “Casa Pueblo” in Adjuntas is one of the most involved opposing group.

Casa Pueblo is a community organization that proposes to protect the environment and reaffirm cultural and human values. They have their own community radio, educational division, and their forest “Bosque del Pueblo”; everything is administrated by the community in Adjuntas. In addition, in their own Technical and Scientific Commission, they study the environmental impacts of the natural gas pipelines.

According to the Casa Pueblo website, they received the Goldman Environmental Prize, equivalent to a Nobel Prize of the Environment, on April 22, 2002.  The distinction was awarded to the community for transforming the mining project into a forest managed by them and developing communitarian self determined projects of economical and environmental sustainability.

Arturo Massol, director of Casa Pueblo, has been involved in many workshops, debates, interviews, presentations and protests to voice the group’s opposition to the gas pipeline. On September 3, 2011 Casa Pueblo leaders Alexis Massol and his son, Arturo Massol, were arrested at the White House in Washington for protest against the gas pipeline, as local and international news reported.

“Casa Pueblo decided to defend this cause against the construction of the pipeline because firstly, it goes across our mountains; and secondly, many citizens got in contact with us because they received the expropriation letters, even before the entire country was notified about the gas pipeline construction,” said Arturo Massol in an interview.

“The environmental effects are many: the pipeline contaminates waters, affects flora and fauna, soils and exposes the citizens to unnecessary risk of explosion and gas intoxication,” Massol said.

“Casa Pueblo is not opposed to use of gas to reduce our dependence on oil. We are opposed to the $450 million investment for a “transitional phase” using another fossil fuel as an excuse that we are moving to renewable energy sources,” Massol expressed.

Group of students and citizen listening the forum about the gas pipeline project of the AEE at the Pontificia Catholic University de Arecibo.

In Oct. 20, 2011 the Pontificia Universidad Catolica (Papal Catholic University) in Arecibo organized an Applied Chemistry Congress that exposed and evaluated the gas pipeline situation. The forum consisted with the participation of engineers, biologists and a representative of Electrical Energy Authority (AEE). Each guest speaker had the opportunity to express their opinion and provide supporting evidence in a ten minutes presentation.

Dr. José Colucci from University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez campus; Dr. Arturo Massol, president of Casa Pueblo; Mr. Orlando Negrón, president of Sierra Club Puerto Rico; Eng. Iván Elías Rodríguez, representantive of Ciudadanos en Defensa del Ambiente (CEDDA) (Citizen for Enviromental Defense) and Eng. Josué Colon, director of Generation of Electricity of the AEE.

The Eng. Josué Colón defended the position of the AEE saying “The AEE is looking to reduce the dependence on oil and the reduction of rates. We discussed the options and the gas pipeline was the best option, to us.” In contrast the Eng Ivan Elias Rodriguez responded “The side effects of this pipeline will be paid by the community. The AEE IS not considering other aspects, they are focusing on the economical aspect only.”

Eng. Colucci explained “The gas pipeline do not show enough information, they took the decision with no consideration of other aspects, and do not have a contingency plan in case of a natural disaster.” He continued “There are other options that are better and the AEE rejected them too soon.”

Orlando Negron proposed to “change the use of electrical energy behavior, saving energy is the immediate solution, as we did before.”  According to El Nuevo Dia, a local newspaper, in 2009 , Eng. Angel Rivera recognized it in an interview. “The AEE does not need to build more plants because the use of electrical energy has decreased 5.8%  in the last few years.”

Everyday investigations, reports, interviews, critics and questions about this project are being published. Arturo Massol finishes, with determination, sayi

ng, “We started this fight in August 2010 and we will continue to fight until we win, and we will win because we are after the common benefit. The gas pipeline will not proceed, the country will stop it.”

Forum speakers during the Applied Chemistry Congress in Arecibo during the question section.

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