Mass/My Turn: Case for the pipeline
I have not jumped on the Stop-the-Pipeline bandwagon. Why? I am confident that there is a real and immediate need. All six New England governors declared a regional need. Locally, Berkshire Gas has testified that Franklin County has the most critical need. In addition to Berkshire Gas, 11 other gas companies have already subscribed to the pipeline, based on known need.
Berkshire Gas estimates capacity to provide approximately only 150 dekatherms of additional natural gas to the entire county. A dekatherm serves the average residential natural gas user for heat and hot water. Commercial and industrial users need substantially more to heat larger spaces and in their production process. That 150 dekatherms accounts for the Kennametal expansion, but not the New England Natural Bakers expansion. It does not contemplate development of the Lunt Silversmith property or any other future commercial or industrial use. Because Greenfield is at the end of the lateral spur for the current full capacity pipeline, proposals to take the pipeline along the Massachusetts Turnpike would stifle Franklin County economic growth far into the future. The last gas line expansion serving Franklin County was in the 1980s.
Simply put, the proposed pipeline means jobs.
Yes, it means very important and high-paying construction jobs for the Laborers Local 596. It also means jobs at the expanding employee-owed New England Natural Bakers. It means jobs at an expanding Argotec, at a redeveloped Lunt Silver Smith and at a desperate UMass-Amherst. It means jobs at many developments that have not even been contemplated. All that development creates even more construction jobs. The pipeline is not only a pipeline for natural gas, but it is a pipeline for new construction and jobs.
Natural gas is critical to development because developers are keenly aware of energy costs. In today’s global environment, business has the ability to easily relocate to areas where energy, labor and taxes are low. Massachusetts has a competitive advantage with a highly trained work force. But companies attract our best and brightest out of state to where there is a lower cost of living. This is why Massachusetts continues to lose population. To attract business, we must continue to provide a total picture that is competitive with Texas and North Carolina.
My friends say that we should do more energy conservation. I agree. Massachusetts already leads the country in energy conservation. We don’t do that because we are enlightened or altruistic, but because the electricity costs are so high. Massachusetts has one of the highest energy costs in the country.
Despite our continuing conservation efforts, electricity will continue to go up. It rises because Vermont Yankee is shutting down. We also shut down coal- and oil-fired plants not meeting new EPA standards. When supply goes down, price goes up. This pipeline can slow the rise in our electric bills.
My friends say “use more renewables.” I agree. However, the land required for solar and turbines to meet our needs would swallow our local farms and destroy the landscape we depend upon for tourism. I hope for a day when scientists develop methods to harness more energy safely and efficiently. But until the world builds a better mouse trap, we have to use the ones we have.
Concerns about hydraulic fracturing are reasonable. Right now, over 60 percent of natural gas in Massachusetts is fracked. Within five years, it will be over 90 percent, whether the pipeline comes or not, because of the proximity of the Marcelles Shale. While I have concerns about fracking, I am more concerned about our dependency on foreign oil and how it puts our country in global jeopardy. For years, I have heard the same opponents to the pipeline lament wars for foreign oil. Without this pipeline, we will be more dependent on foreign oil.
Additionally trucking or shipping oil by rail is much more dangerous than an underground pipeline. We are far more likely to see an oil spill, derailment or explosion than we are to see problems with natural gas. Fracking presents serious environmental problems, but so does deep sea oil drilling, topping mountains for coal, clear-cutting forests for biomass, eating up farmland for solar and vibrations from wind. If we want to stop fracking, the way to do that is through federal regulation and not by opposing the pipeline that we sorely need.
This does not mean that we should approve of the pipeline proposal hook, line and sinker. We should be actively involved in making sure it is done in the right way. We need to demand that Kinder Morgan mitigates local environmental impacts. We need to reroute a proposed pipeline around the Clarkdale fruit farm. And we need to ensure taxpayers do not foot the bill.
But just saying “no” is not enough.
Isaac Mass is an at-large member of the Greenfield Town Council.