“This pipeline would destroy hundreds of our trees because the pipeline swath will be over a hundred feet wide, and it would destroy our piece of the American dream,” one Massachusetts property owner says.
NORTH ORANGE, Mass. — A proposal to build a pipeline from the fracking fields of Pennsylvania to eastern Massachusetts by late 2018 is sparking concern among many property owners in the path of the pipe. But there’s a twist to this evolving story: a proposed surcharge added to electric bills that would force every ratepayer in New England to help pay for the interstate pipeline, which is expected to cost $2 billion to $6 billion.
The route proposed for the pipeline’sMassachusetts segment runs through dense forests, wetlands and small towns in the northern tier of the state. Alternative routes, or modifications to the northern route, will be unveiled by the end of September — when the company proposing to build the pipeline files a permit application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The company is Houston-basedKinder Morgan Energy Partners, LP and itsTennessee Gas Pipeline subsidiary. Once FERC receives the permit application, which will detail the entire Northeast Energy Direct Project — as Kinder Morgan has dubbed the346-mile pipeline proposal — the agency will open an electronically accessible docket for the public to submit comments.
The proposed Massachusetts segment of Energy Direct is 126 miles long. The main pipeline will be either 30- or 36-inches in diameter — depending on the volume of gas that consumers sign up to buy — with the larger pipe capable of delivering more than 2 billion cubic feet of gas per day.
Cooperation is currently 50/50
The Massachusetts segment would start in Richmond (in the Berkshires) and end in Dracut, about 32 miles north of Boston. Kinder Morgan spokesman Richard Wheatley told MintPress News that about half of the 1,650 property owners along the main line route have granted the company permission to survey their properties. Those properties, he added, are located in over 40 towns along the route for main line and potential branches off the eastern end of the pipeline.
However, according tonofrackedgas.org, 28 of those towns have passed resolutions against the pipeline, which is also opposed by both of the state’s U.S. senators and two of its U.S. representatives.
René Lake-Gagliardi, who lives in the community of South Royalston, Massachusetts, told MintPress that burying the pipeline in her land would require digging a half-mile trench through the 98-acre property she has occupied for the last 30 years. And, like other landowners speaking out against the proposal, she is angered by any suggestion that the one-time payment for an easement could compensate her for an industrial intrusion into her property.
“During the first 12 years I lived here, we didn’t have electricity, but we sacrificed and worked hard to build a home for ourselves, our children, and our children’s children. This pipeline would destroy hundreds of our trees because the pipeline swath will be over a hundred feet wide, and it would destroy our piece of the American dream. But we will not allow ourselves to be bullied out of our sanctuary of peace and health,” she said.
The New England States Committee on Electricity — a publicly funded panel whose members are appointed by the governors of the six New England states — believes that the region has reached a point where it has to substantially increase electrical-transmission and gas-pipeline capacity. Its position is based on wintertime energy shortfalls and price spikes, among other indications that New England needs more energy.
By contrast, energy analysts and attorneys at theConservation Law Foundation argue that New England should address its energy shortfalls by, among other things, storing much more liquefied-natural-gas in the 47 storage facilities that the region already has.
“We have tried to work with NESCOE for over a year to develop alternatives to a massive new pipeline, but they have refused to share their documents with us, or to work with us in developing market-reform proposals,” Shanna Cleveland, senior attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, told MintPress.
“Hostility” from a publicly funded group
“They have taken a ‘we-can-do-this-without-you’ position,” Cleveland continued, adding, “They’ve been pretty hostile.”
In response to that hostility, the Conservation Law Foundation has been busy filing public records requests — and appeals when they fail — to obtain NESCOE documents. The acquired documents reveal, Cleveland said, that the outline for a major pipeline project in New England and a funding tariff that would pay for it was drafted by a Maine attorney who sent his proposal to Maine’s Public Utilities Commission Chairman Thomas Welch.
It was Welch, Cleveland said, who forwarded the pipeline proposal to NESCOE. Cleveland also added: “Industry lobbyists in Maine want to provide their pulp-and-paper mills with access to natural gas at ‘Louisiana prices,’ and they believe that the tariff would spur Kinder Morgan to build a bigger pipeline for that cheap gas coming out of Pennsylvania.”
If a publicly-funded group such as NESCOE is focusing its efforts on corporate rather than public concerns, it’s not surprising, Cleveland observed, that “they have not been remotely transparent.”
“One of the memos we acquired through a public records request quotes a NESCOE staffer as expressing support for a ‘closed door’ deal strategy because ‘the court of public opinion can be fickle and recalcitrant,’” she said.
If there’s still any doubt that NESCOE has been guided by industry stakeholders in Maine, it may have dissipated in the wake of a ferocious reaction to a recentAssociated Press report saying Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick had requested a delay in the pending New England Power Pool, or NEPOOL, vote on NESCOE’s proposed tariff.
NEPOOL is a voluntary association whose members include abroad spectrum of energy stakeholders. On Aug. 14, Maine Gov. Paul LePage sent aletter to theBangor Press imploring Gov. Patrick to support the NESCOE initiative to bring Pennsylvania gas (and Canadian hydropower) to New England.
Maine gov. blasts Massachusetts gov.
Gov. LePage has described Gov. Patrick’s position as a “colossal mistake” which will “increase our already-high gas prices” and “raise fundamental questions about Maine’s partnership with the rest of New England with respect to our energy collaboration.”
But Gov. Patrick “has not withdrawn his support or backed away from the process,” Patrick spokeswoman Krista Selmi told MintPress. “There was some [energy supply] analysis completed in 2013, but a lot of it is outdated because it doesn’t include the most recent decisions to retire capacity in the near future [such as the 2014 decision to close the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant]. So, we would like to update that analysis.”
If the update persuades Gov. Patrick to formally endorse the tariff, and NEPOOL endorses its submission to FERC, it would mark “the first time in the agency’s history that it’s been asked to approve an electricity tariff to fund a gas pipeline,” Cleveland said, adding, “It would be like asking ratepayers to pay for railroad tracks leading coal trains to a power plant.”
Meanwhile, Kinder Morgan maintains that the tariff has nothing to do with its pipeline proposal. Wheatley, the Kinder Morgan spokesman, said the company does not need any financial assistance to build the pipeline because its financing will come from customers who sign contracts for a share of pipeline capacity.
NESCOE wants investments to yield “savings”
In a statement to MintPress, NESCOE Executive Director Heather Hunt said, “The proposed tariff [awaiting a NEPOOL vote] … did not identify or contemplate any particular project. The states had contemplated that some form of competitive process would identify proposed projects that assert a need for such tariff support (to increase the capacity over existing or projected future capability) and if so, which of those project(s) would provide the maximum benefits to consumers.
“The states,” Hunt continued, “also contemplated that the competitive process to identify project(s) would include robust cost benefit analysis to ensure that any infrastructure investments would provide net savings to electricity customers.”
Future “savings” disputed
Jane Winn, a Pittsfield, Massachusetts, resident and executive director of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, is skeptical of assurances that the cost-benefit analysis is intended to help consumers “save money.” She has strong suspicions that much of the Pennsylvania gas that would be pumped to Dracut, Massachusetts, is not intended for New England at all. If that’s true, it means that the region wouldn’t enjoy any significant cost benefits because any increase in gas supply would be smaller than expected.
“There is a pipeline that used to send gas south — from Nova Scotia to Dracut — and the company operating that pipeline has filed an application to reverse the flow from Dracut to Nova Scotia,” Winn told MintPress, pointing out that Nova Scotia has two liquefied natural gas export terminals.
“Environmentalists have been demanding a cost-benefit study all along, but I don’t hear Heather Hunt saying the analysis will include an evaluation of renewables — or efficiency mandates to promote demand reductions — which we believe the analysis must include,” she continued.
Pointing out that the proposed pipeline would pass through a watershed which provides most of the water for Pittsfield’s reservoir, Winn said that the potential environmental costs of the pipeline should be included in the analysis as well.
Currently, Kinder Morgan has buyers for 500 million cubic feet worth of gas per day, but Wheatley declined to speculate about whether that’s enough to justify building a pipeline with a 36 inch diameter. He noted, however, that Kinder Morgan will continue pursuing gas-purchase commitments even after FERC opens the pipeline docket.
Much further down the road, the lawyers will have to sort out an apparent, constitutional roadblock to much of the proposed pipeline. Under Article 97 of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, protected forests may not be developed without “yes” votes from two-thirds of the state representatives and two-thirds of the state senators. It remains to be seen if federal powers of eminent domain would preempt the state’s constitution.
But, for now, the pipeline opponents remain determined to engage as many people as possible in their rallies and forums.
Leigh Youngblood, executive director of the Athol, Massachusetts-based Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust, told MintPress that the pipeline “has been proposed to go through an area of Massachusetts where we have the most intact forest blocs, which are an essential element for biodiversity and — here in central New England — a very rare element, as well. So, those forests are incompatible with the pipeline which, by design and definition, will disrupt the ecosystems in the forests.”
Youngblood explained that the Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust heard about the pipeline proposal when some of the landowners they had previously helped acquire land protections sought advice on dealing with people who asked for permission to survey their land — and claimed that the conservation status of their land was immaterial to surveying requests.
“Our mission,” Youngblood said, “has two components: protecting land and stewarding land. Stewarding the land is what keeps it protected over time. This project flies directly in the face of our mission, and it would undermine our accomplishments.”
Youngblood credited the Conservation Law Foundation and others for their efforts in demonstrating that “the pipeline is not needed to meet the energy needs in Massachusetts.”
“It’s even more egregious to violate conservation values for something that’s not needed. I think this proposal is drawing attention to energy policy in a way that hasn’t happened before,” she continued. “So, it’s a teachable moment because the idea of barging through our most intact forests in such a densely populated state is offensive to many, many people.”