Eye on the Pipelines: Opposition gathers to network of natural gas pipelines from the ‘fracking’ fields
Editor’s Note: This and subsequent articles will follow the Tennessee Gas Pipeline (TGP) Northeast Energy Direct Project proposed by Kinder Morgan that, if built, will pass through a number of towns in Berkshire County on its way to northeastern Massachusetts and beyond.
West Stockbridge — Many Berkshire County residents may be surprised to learn that there is a high-pressure fracked gas pipeline being proposed by Tennessee Gas Co., a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan of Houston, Texas, that would significantly impact the Berkshires. If built, the pipeline would originate at a pipeline hub in Wright, N.Y., enter Berkshire County in Richmond, and continue on through Lenox, Pittsfield, Dalton, Hinsdale, Peru and Windsor on its way across northern Massachusetts to Dracut, north of Boston, ultimately connecting to the Maritimes and Northeast Pipeline in Maine. A number of other Berkshire County towns could land in the pipeline’s path, including Hancock, Savoy, Stockbridge, Washington, and West Stockbridge.
The project – initially known as the Tennessee Gas Pipeline (TGP) Northeast Expansion Project and recently renamed the TGP Northeast Energy Direct Project – is designed to carry natural gas from fracking fields operating in the Marcellus and Utica shale beds to a transmission hub in Dracut. It would feature a 36-inch high-pressure natural gas transmission line under 1,460 pounds of pressure. Such pressure would require a number of compression stations as well as related infrastructure.
The path of the proposed pipeline cuts through hundreds of private properties and through some of Massachusetts’ most sensitive eco-systems, including land and waterways that are protected from development under state law. (See map.)
Landowners along the proposed route received in May 2014 a project overview document from Kinder Morgan representatives that briefly described the pertinent segment of pipeline:
“The proposed Wright, N.Y., to Dracut segment would result in the construction of approximately 50 miles of co-located pipe on TGP’s system and 129 miles of greenfield pipeline, additional meter stations and compressor stations, and modifications to existing facilities in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire.”
Kinder Morgan, self-proclaimed as the largest midstream and the fourth largest energy company in North America, operates or owns an interest in 80,000 miles of pipelines and 180 terminals. The behemoth company, with an enterprise value of $100 billion, is banking on the “significant interest” shown by local distribution companies, electric generators, industrial end users and developers of liquefied natural gas projects in New England and Atlantic Canada during the initial “open season” phase of the project, wherein the company solicits new requests for service based on the potential capacity that could be provided by the pipeline.
But opponents say the math just doesn’t compute: they contend the maximum capacity of the new pipeline far outweighs existing or future requests for gas to serve North American markets. As outlined in company documents and elsewhere, the pipeline proposed by Kinder Morgan would add up to 2.200 BCF (billion cubic feet per day) of capacity to natural gas supplies in the region. This is more than 15 times the expected rate of growth in gas system demand, according to a well-researched report prepared by the Dracut/Tyngsboro Pipeline Awareness Group.
“The Kinder Morgan proposal alone would increase regional pipeline capacity from 3 million BCF to as much as 5.2 million BCF, a 73 percent jump. Documents prepared for investors and prospective customers show that this proposed large increase in regional pipeline is primarily for export,” the report explained. (More on the “gas in/gas out” question in a future article.)
The origins of the pipeline project can be traced to the “New England Governors’ Commitment to Regional Cooperation on Energy Infrastructure Issues,” a joint statement published in December 2013 following a meeting of all six New England governors, and the subsequent creation of the New England States Committee on Electricity (NESCOE), formed in response to what the governors consider a “reliability” problem in the electric-generating capacity tied to natural gas supplies during times of peak demand, which in turn affects the price of the gas, and increases the price of electricity during these peak periods. The shortages in question occur only occasionally in extremely cold weather, and they have impacted only natural gas electricity generation plants. In a January 2014 letter from the newly formed Committee to ISO-NE, the “independent system operator” of the region’s energy grid, a request was made to build out new gas and electricity infrastructure (a pipeline and a transmission line) in the region that would ultimately be funded by New England ratepayers, to address these shortages.
The contention that a new pipeline is necessary to address intermittent shortages has been met with skepticism on the part of energy experts and environmental organizations in the Commonwealth and beyond. In their Pipeline Alternatives Assessment: Energy Resources to Meet New England’s Winter Needs published in May 2014, Environment New England (ENE) compares the “proposed pipeline capacity expansion of 600 million cubic feet (MMcf) per day to a combination of energy resources capable of reducing peak natural gas demand from electric generation, heating, and other uses.” In lieu of financing new multi-billion-dollar natural gas pipelines in the region without sufficient assessment beforehand, ENE maintains that we need to consider and utilize all available options to meet our energy needs by engaging in more transparent public discussion and debate and that “viable, potentially lower cost, and cleaner alternatives have not yet been sufficiently evaluated” by New England states.
In fact, in the NESCOE “New England Gas-Electric Focus Group Final Report” of March 28, 2014, the gas/electric industry analyst firm concluded and recommended, among other things, that, “No long-term infrastructure solutions are necessary under the Low Demand Scenario”, and, “Further analysis would be required to determine whether policies that would result in a Low Demand Scenario are cost-competitive with infrastructure investments.”
New studies have shown that the gas industry is extremely leaky, not only adding to perceived shortages, but needlessly adding to greenhouse gas emissions. The natural gas lost in extraction, processing and transmission is primarily methane, a greenhouse gas at least 25 times more powerful than carbon. Methane has a short half-life, so over 100 years it is about 25 times more powerful than CO2, but over 20 years it is 75-100 times more powerful. These methane emissions actually counterbalance the climate benefits of burning natural gas to produce electricity, and leading scientists are warning that converting existing plants to natural gas and/or adding new plants that burn natural gas will actually aggravate climate change.
Environmental groups in the region are vocally against the proposed pipeline. Upon receiving a request from Northeast Land Services, a contract land agent employed by Tennessee Gas Co., to survey its properties – specifically West Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary in Hampshire County, Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Berkshire County, and Cheshire Pond Wildlife Sanctuary in Worcester County – Mass Audubon issued a letter in April 2014 in which they declined permission to access or survey any Mass Audubon properties for numerous reasons, including the lack of public process undertaken at any level of government to examine the need for the pipeline, the lack of smaller-scale improvements being proposed, and lack of appropriate analysis of the facts.
Mass Audubon followed up with a letter to Gov. Deval Patrick stating that they “respectfully object to the manner in which the Commonwealth is proceeding, in cooperation with energy companies, to undertake new long-term natural gas import commitments to the state and region along with related infrastructure, especially in the form of the proposed Kinder-Morgan Tennessee Gas Company Northeast Expansion Pipeline project (Kinder-Morgan.)”
Mass Audubon also asked the Governor to instruct the appropriate departments to “undertake open and transparent processes to publicly examine energy supply needs and pursue options that will meet those needs with the least damaging environmental impact while advancing Massachusetts clean energy policy.”
The Trustees of Reservations, an organization founded in 1981 that preserves, for public use and enjoyment, properties of exceptional scenic, historic, and ecological value in Massachusetts, has also written to Governor Patrick expressing their concern over the serious threats the proposed pipeline would pose to “at least 20 state-protected wildlife management areas and state forests, municipal watershed protection areas, reservation and sanctuaries of The Trustees and Mass Audubon, the Appalachian Trail Corridor, and other conserved lands.” Many other energy and environmental organizations have issued letters against the pipeline plans.
Rosemary Wessel, who this year founded No Fracked Gas in Mass joined forces with Bruce and Jane Winn of Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT) and Katy Eiseman of Mass Pipeline Awareness Network (MassPLAN) to provide up-to-the minute news, information and research about the proposed pipeline and the natural gas industry at large, became energized for action when she first saw the proposed route. They have helped mobilize many other concerned citizens and property owners regarding the proposed pipeline.
“Seeing Kinder Morgan’s pipeline route map cutting straight through the most pristine preserved lands of the state made me instantly realize how much would be lost for good,” Wessel said. “I’m also aware of how much the natural gas industry adds to climate change. This pipeline would drag us back into the fossil fuel age when we’re just ready to step into that clean energy economy the Governor and candidates like to talk about.”
Bruce and Jane Winn have been attending as many pipeline forums, rallies, community events, and informational meetings as possible, interpreting the complexities of the industry for the general public and providing the facts to back up their argument that “natural gas isn’t clean, isn’t cheap and we don’t need the extra capacity.”
Who Will Pay for It?
The New England States Committee on Energy has asked ISO-New England to gain approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to impose new tariffs on New England utility ratepayers to cover a portion of the cost of the pipeline being built. It is unknown whether or not ISO-New England requested such approval. Either way, however, that approval has not yet been granted, and the exact cost to ratepayers has yet to be determined. But opponents point out the unusual arrangement benefitting the multi-billion-dollar industrial giant has been fast-tracked without a complete analysis of all the alternatives.
A Move Backwards?
A growing number of Massachusetts citizens are concerned that any further expansion of our fossil fuel infrastructure runs counter to Massachusetts’ gains in moving toward clean energy production, increased energy efficiency, and building up the renewable/ sustainable energy infrastructure in the Commonwealth. The mere fact that the pipeline would deliver gas extracted by controversial fracking methods has elicited resistance among those who stand firm in their conviction that it is fundamentally wrong to support an industry that threatens human and animal health and the environment to such a degree via contamination to water supplies and the release of methane gas into the atmosphere.
Statewide opposition to the project is growing, as is awareness and opposition within Berkshire County. According to the No Fracked Gas in Mass website, 8,390 signatures have been collected on the state-wide Petition to Ban New Gas Pipelines and Champion Sustainable Energy. Fourteen municipalities have adopted resolutions to ban new gas pipelines and/or to support community rights to protect the environment within their town borders, including Lenox and Sandisfield in Berkshire County. Dalton has scheduled a special town meeting for June 30 to put a resolution to ban the pipeline up for vote, and organizers in Richmond are working to secure a date for a special town meeting for the same purpose.
The issue has spurred action by Massachusetts legislators as well.
In a joint statement prepared for a May 15, 2014 rally that was organized in Greenfield as a platform for sharing information and bringing visibility to the pipeline project, state Senators Stan Rosenberg (D-Hampshire) and Ben Downing (D-Berkshire), and Representatives Steve Kulik (D-1st Franklin) and Paul Mark (D-2nd Berkshire) stated their concerns:
“Our work so far has convinced us that the major policy questions about the need for additional gas supply, and the environmental, economic, and social issues raised by this project have not yet been adequately addressed.
“Furthermore, we are not pleased with both the lack of specific information about this project and the proposed pipeline route that has come from Kinder Morgan. We are very disappointed and concerned about the way that the company is dealing with property owners and town governments who would be impacted by the pipeline.”
Although proponents of the pipeline project include town officials who are eager for their towns to cash in on the influx of taxes that would result from the project, at citizen information meetings held in several towns in Berkshire County, residents overwhelmingly expressed concern that the costs to personal property and to the environment of doing business with Kinder Morgan far outweighs any fiscal benefits.
As to the question of whether or not the project would create local jobs, residents expressed skepticism, noting that, in the past, most of the jobs went to industry employees from other areas. Far more jobs would be created in Massachusetts thanks to the state’s focus on energy efficiency (weatherization and insulation) and by renewable energy such as solar manufacturing and installation.
The Tennessee Gas Pipeline project raises a number of complex and important questions worthy of further examination and debate, not the least of which is when and where do we as people flip the inevitable switch from our centuries-old reliance on fossil fuels to meet our energy needs to fully embracing clean, sustainable alternatives?
For more information:
www.massplan.org (Mass Pipeline Awareness Network)