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Pipeline Project Raises Questions As Group Marches Across Mass.

Jim Levulis

Protestors are continuing a march across Massachusetts following the route of a proposed multi-state natural gas pipeline. About 100 people started the march Sunday in Richmond.

Roughly 30 people gathered in downtown Pittsfield Monday morning to send off about a dozen biking 20 miles round trip to Windsor carrying a ceremonial baton designed to look like a piece of pipeline. Cheryl Rose organized this leg of the bike trip.

“If they break ground for this pipeline there may be no turning back at that point so really now is when we need to rally,” Rose said. “This pipeline has the potential to do such damage to our local environment, but also to the global climate.”

Kinder Morgan’s proposal includes a total of 346 miles of new 36-inch pipeline including loops along existing pipelines. With route selection and public outreach ongoing, the newly named Tennessee Gas Pipeline Northeast Energy Direct Project would carry fracked gas from Pennsylvania through New York to Dracut, Massachusetts. The formerly named Northeast Expansion Project would be partially paid for by an electricity ratepayer increase supported by the six New England governors.

After completing the proposed route to Dracut, protestors plan to deliver a petition to Governor Deval Patrick in Boston on July 30th asking him to stop the rate increase. The Democrat says he will address the group’s petition if it is delivered. He noted the state’s progress toward what he says is the ultimate goal of ending reliance on hydrocarbons.

“Natural gas has a role to play in my view in helping us get there,” Patrick said. “Whether that means we say yes to this pipeline project or some other is part of what the process is about. I’m glad that so many people are involved.”

The pipeline proposal is in response to an increasing demand for low-cost natural gas to support heating and power generation laid out by the six New England governors and the New England States Committee on Electricity. Rosemary Wessel is with the group No Fracked Gas in Mass. which formed in February. She says 20 communities have passed resolutions against the pipeline or for community rights in the permitting process.

“All this damage and all this pollution could happen for really what isn’t a need for more energy at this point, said Wessel.

ISO-New England, a nonprofit that oversees the region’s electric grid, has identified the need for more natural gas infrastructure and is reviewing a request from the New England States Committee on Electricity to pay for the project through the ratepayer increase. The January 2014 request from the Committee asks ISO-New England to assist in developing infrastructure to deliver at least 1,200 megawatts of clean energy from no- or low-carbon emission sources to the New England grid to address peak demand during summer and winter.

But, 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. However, 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. The project, which is set to break ground in early 2017, is subject to approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Democratic State Senator Ben Downing of Pittsfield says he won’t support the project until he learns more about where the gas will go and the proposed route, which may cut through conservation land in Lenox.

“I have a lot of concerns and a lot of questions, not any of which have been satisfactorily answered satisfactorily yet,” said Downing.

Kinder Morgan’s website says where the gas goes once it is delivered to local distributors is up to those companies and that Tennessee Gas anticipates it will ask Massachusetts lawmakers for easement rights on conservation land. Democratic State Representative Smitty Pignatelli of Lenox says he hasn’t seen any benefit for Berkshire County and temporary jobs shouldn’t outweigh environmental treasures.

“Politically there’s really no support whatsoever in Boston to do an Article 97 legislation to help out this pipeline because there has been no benefit proven to us,” said Pignatelli.

Richard Wheatley, Kinder Morgan’s spokesman, says the project could create 3,000 jobs during peak construction.

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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