Anna Fessenden Photo
While representatives of Kinder Morgan are pitching a 129-mile gas pipeline through northern Massachusetts, opponents of the pipeline are on the march. The so-called “Rolling March/Statewide Pipeline Resistance Relay Walk” started July 6 near Massachusetts’ western border in Richmond, where Gov. Deval Patrick has a house, and will finish July 26 in Dracut. Dracut, near Lowell, is the planned terminus of the pipeline, which will carry natural gas extracted by fracking.
Owners of property along the route, and their neighbors, are walking to send a message to elected officials that the pipeline, now known as the Northeast Energy Direct Project (formerly the Northeast Expansion Project), is neither needed nor wanted. On July 30, pipeline opponents will present Gov. Patrick with a piece of polyvinyl pipe and a petition demanding that the pipeline not be built.
Rene’ Lake-Gagliardi organized the Athol leg of the walk, which covered 6.5 miles. Lake- Gagliardi lives in Athol near the Athol-Royalston line and received a request from Kinder Morgan to allow her property to be surveyed. She refused.
“We’ve asked for information: ‘Could you explain how this process is going to happen?’—and we don’t get any of those requests answered. We’ve asked about boring, about what kind of surveying they want to do,” she told the Advocate. “It sounds very innocent, but in fact they have to do boring, and they may cut down trees. We’ve asked questions and we haven’t gotten any answers. We have meetings and they promise to come and then they cancel. We have selectmen’s meetings with rooms full of people, and there’s no one there to answer questions.”
From the Berkshires all the way to Dracut, communities are passing resolutions against the pipeline—nonbinding resolutions, but they make their point. Twenty-one towns have resolutions and more are being drafted. Groups like the Middlesex County Coalition of Towns against the Proposed Pipeline, a counterpart to Franklin County’s No Fracked Gas in Massachusetts, keep local residents abreast of Tennessee Gas’s movements as well as offering information about fracking, the pipeline and the energy market in New England and Canada, where large energy companies are moving to have ports opened for the exporting of natural gas to foreign countries, just as they are doing here.
The export issue forms a part of the basis of many people’s objections to the Kinder Morgan pipeline. “Though Kinder Morgan says [the gas] is for use in New England, it doesn’t say that it’s not for export,” said marcher Pixie Holbrook of Conway. “We are convinced it’s headed for European markets.”
“As soon as there’s a need somewhere else, we’re going to be paying a higher price,” Lake-Gagliardi added.
Richard Wheatley, director of communications for Kinder Morgan, told the Advocate that the company does not yet know where the gas will go because it will go “where the customers want to send it. We take capacity commitments from customers. They tell us where they would like the gas to be transported. It could be foreign countries if the gas was moved to a liquid natural gas facility.”
Another issue for pipeline opponents is the estimated 8 to 12 billion cubic feet of natural gas lost to pipeline leaks in Massachusetts each year. A bill to repair the most dangerous leaks just passed the Massachusetts Legislature and was signed by Gov. Patrick last week (“These Old Pipes,” July 17, 2014), but the version that passed does not require the least hazardous leaks to be repaired within a definite time frame. These so-called Class 3 leaks are considered less hazardous than others because they may be farther from buildings, not because they emit smaller volumes of gas.
Even more important to pipeline opponents, however, is their contention that the new pipeline is not needed because of the growth of alternative energy sources in the region. They cite a study by ISO New England, manager of the regional electric grid, that shows that a net 700 megawatts of power will be lost when Vermont Yankee and all the oil- and coal-fired plants in Massachusetts have been shut down. That amount, they say, would be more than made up for by the 1,600 megawatts of solar power and 2,000 megawatts of wind power Gov. Deval Patrick has called for by 2020.
And the state is moving toward that goal; of the 464 megawatts of solar power are now installed in Massachusetts, 237 were installed in 2013 alone. “Massachusetts is doing such a great job,” said Lake-Gagliardi. “We’re ahead of schedule on renewables.”
Not all the property owners along the proposed pipeline route have made the same choice Gagliardi made, however. Wheatley said that the company has “about 50 percent of the permissions that we need. We have about 1,650 landowners in Massachusetts and we have permission from about 50 percent of those.”
Kinder Morgan intends to do a preliminary filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in September, he said, and that filing will open a process that allows for public comment.•