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Concerns Raised Over Proposed Natural Gas Pipeline

Kinder Morgan

While construction for a proposed pipeline across the northern portion of Massachusetts wouldn’t begin until April 2017, environmental groups are already expressing opposition. The proposal is to upgrade and expand the existing Tennessee Gas Pipeline covering parts of New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire.

Kinder Morgan’s Northeast Expansion Project would involve construction of roughly 250 miles of new pipeline, about 180 miles being a main route of 36 inch diameter pipe running from the Capitol Region in New York east across the northern part of Massachusetts to Dracut. The additional areas would be serviced by smaller pipe based on the result of a customer solicitation period that wrapped up at the end of March. An existing pipeline runs north to south through the middle of Connecticut and east to west through southern Massachusetts. The proposal is in response to an increasing demand for natural gas laid out by the six New England Governors and the New England States Committee on Electricity. Katy Eiseman co-founded the group No Fracked Gas in Mass. in February.

“We are already doing what we need with energy efficiency to meet our needs,” Eiseman said. “Furthermore, this capacity would go far beyond anything that we could ever image needing for our region. It is really about getting the gas to the coast and to Canada so that it can be shipped to markets where the gas company can make more money.”

Members of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team have been traveling the state discussing the proposed project. The gas that would run through the pipeline would be produced by separate companies fracking in the Marcellus and Utica shale fields of New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Kinder Morgan has begun holding town hall meetings in Montague, Massachusetts and will continue west into New York along the proposed route. Laura Chapdelaine, who says she is against fracking altogether, says the company told her a pipeline may go through her six-acre property. She says it would run along railroad tracks that border her land.  

“The railroad runs a switching yard so you can image how much vibration and trauma to the ground that goes on from the trains hitching and unhitching constantly,” Chapdelaine said. “And then bring it onto to our property, right across our pond, right through our woods, the one little piece of woods we own, which go up a slope that goes down to the pond so we’d lose all our erosion control there.”

Richard Wheatley is a spokesman for Kinder Morgan. In addition to the town hall meetings, he says the company will conduct environmental, historical, civil and cultural impact studies along the proposed route. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commissionwill oversee those studies and conduct its own studies and hold public meetings. Wheatley says Kinder Morgan must first get permission from landowners to survey any land for those studies and that FERC has final approval on the largely underground pipeline. Residents in Montague have drafted a resolution urging the town’s Select Board to ban the surveying of land.  ISO-New England, a nonprofit that oversees the region’s electric grid, is expeditiously reviewing a request from the New England States Committee on Electricity to pay for the project through a ratepayer increase. Wheatley says the project cost depends on distribution requests, but could be in the several billion dollar range.

“I would ask that instead we as rate payers have tariffs not for new pipelines, but for more energy efficiency and more sustainable renewable energy,” said Eiseman.

A five-year progress report released by Massachusetts in December 2013 says ISO-New England projects zero growth in the state’s electricity usage over the next decade because of ongoing energy efficiency programs. The January 2014 request from the New England States Committee on Electricity asks ISO-New England to assist in developing infrastructure to deliver at least 1,200 MW of clean energy from no- or low-carbon emission sources to the New England grid to address peak demand during summer and winter. A March report from the committee on electricity says more than half of New England’s electricity is generated by natural gas, compared to just five percent in 1990. The report says the region’s existing pipelines are running near capacity while non-natural gas power plants are being retired, limiting the ability to deliver low cost natural gas. Wheatley says based on the current timetable, pipeline construction would begin April 2017, creating approximately 3,000 jobs during peak construction. The company hopes to have the pipeline in service by November 2018.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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