Sandisfield — On Halloween day, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) gave the final green light to Kinder Morgan subsidiary, Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, to begin shipping gas through the Connecticut Expansion pipeline. A treat for the company felt like a trick to many in Berkshire County who had fought unsuccessfully to preserve the small gem of Otis State Forest.
Construction of the pipeline has not proceeded smoothly. Tennessee was forced to change its plans about water disposal after high levels of contamination could not be reduced sufficiently to meet EPA effluent standards. And the company’s land restoration efforts have been challenged in FERC proceedings.
Hydrostatic Testing, Resulted in Sky-High Levels of Zinc
Although FERC must approve natural gas pipelines, pipeline safety is regulated by the U. S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
DOT requires testing of pipelines in order to expose defective materials that might have missed detection and to ensure that the pipe will be strong enough to transport pressurized gas without risk of explosion.
To do the testing, Tennessee withdrew about 547,000 gallons of water from Lower Spectacle Pond — about half of the originally-planned million gallons — in order to test the hydrostatic pressure of the pipeline.
Once the testing was completed, Tennessee was left with highly contaminated water that the company had not expected – and a big disposal problem.
In a September 23 letter to EPA’s Boston office, the Environmental Project Manager for Tennessee noted that tetrachlorethylene, copper, iron, lead, nickel and zinc levels exceeded effluent limits.
Most dramatically, the zinc level in the test water was about 19 times the safe level, or 570 micrograms per liter rather than the 30 micrograms per liter required by the EPA.
Leeching of heavy metals and chemicals from the pipe likely caused the high levels of contamination.
Tennessee first informed the EPA that it planned to subcontract with ProAct Services to design, build and operate a treatment system on-site to reduce the concentrations of contaminants before “discharge to an upland area” in the vicinity of Otis State Forest.
This plan, however, failed. ProAct was unable to reduce the contaminant levels to the point where the water could be disposed of in Otis. After decontamination efforts failed, the water is being shipped to an off-site decontamination facility.
The company again wrote EPA, stating in an October status report that it had transferred the hydrostatic test water to holding tanks in preparation to haul it to a water treatment facility.
Peter Czapienski, a spokesman for the Springfield-based, western division of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), confirmed the change of plans, and said that licensed haulers will be transporting the effluent offsite.
Filings by Massachusetts Pipeline Awareness Network (MassPLAN) raise serious questions about Tennessee’s efforts to restore the land around the Massachusetts loop.
After the company petitioned FERC to begin transporting gas, MassPLAN shot back in an opposition filing that permission should not be granted because, among other reasons, “TGP’s restoration and mitigation efforts…[are] inadequate.”
MassPLAN disputed the company’s claim that it has installed “approximately 90 percent of tree and shrub mitigation plantings.” Rather, the group said, “not a single prescribed tree or shrub has been planted along the restoration areas of the pipeline route, stream crossings, or mitigation wetland replication site.”
MassPLAN, based in Cummington, works with local residents and activists in Sandisfield who observe what the company is doing as best possible in light of the limited public access to the construction site.
The watchdog group also questioned the accuracy of the company’s statement that “restoration/seeding and final cleanup” are complete along approximately 97 percent of the Massachusetts Loop.
Even if this were an accurate estimate, the reseeding must be inspected and redone in light of the flash-flooding and high winds that the area experienced at the end of October, the group claimed.
Tennessee was also required to purchase and convey to the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation Division of MassParks certain land, “the Fales Site,” under the terms of the final Water Quality Certification. Yet MassPlan’s research showed that the Registry of Deeds for the Southern Berkshire District does not include conveyance of the site to the Commonwealth.
Although the Certification states, “This [conveyance] shall occur prior to the initiation of any activities otherwise permitted in this Certification…” (Emphasis added), this apparently has not happened.
Transfer of the 35.7-acre site, which includes a forested portion located within a Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Landscape, is the “Preservation Component of the Compensation Package,” in the Certification. Tennessee must convey the site to the Commonwealth in order to compensate, in part, for its taking significant acreage in the Otis State Forest by eminent domain.
Looking back at the pipeline’s beginnings, Tennessee contracted with three Connecticut gas companies in 2013, when that state’s policy was to convert homeowners and businesses from oil to gas. Then oil prices tanked. There was little incentive to switch to gas. Connecticut’s goals were not met.
Also, many in Connecticut are concerned about the impact of gas burning on the state’s targets for reducing greenhouse gasses.
Despite the shifting state policy and reduced need for the gas, FERC approved the pipeline and the Berkshire Superior Court upheld FERC.
Under these circumstances, at the very least, MassPLAN and the town of Sandisfield now say, restoration of the land and water around the pipeline must be done right.