Conway residents take aim at safety, contents of pipeline
CONWAY — The safety of the community and questions about the contents of natural gas that will flow through a proposed Tennessee Gas Co. pipeline dominated a special Selectboard meeting in Conway Thursday night.
In a question-and-answer session that followed a brief presentation by parent company Kinder Morgan, about 75 local residents spent the better part of two hours quizzing representatives from the energy giant, at one point requesting that the session be extended beyond its alotted time to allow everyone to have their questions aired.
Many of the questions had to do with what safety measures would be taken to ensure that an accident along the pipeline did not pollute the community or result in death or injury.
Resident John Rioux called the company’s safety record into question, citing information in a Forbes Magazine article that said the company had committed numerous safety violations in the construction of its Rockies Express pipeline in Colorado.
“Given all this, why should we trust you?” asked Rioux.
In response, Allen Fore, the company’s vice president of public affairs, said some mistakes are inevitable on large projects with many contractors involved and that the company continuously strives to improve its practices.
“We have a lot of projects and I’m not going to say we’re perfect, but if mistakes are made, we fix them,” Fore said. “We’re the only energy company that posts our safety record; you can view it on our website.”
Jim Hartman, the company’s senior right-of-way agent, said that there had only been one accident involving Kinder Morgan’s pipelines in Massachusetts since he joined the company in 1982 and that it had been a result of a third party performing construction work nearby.
Others asked the representatives to provide information about what types of chemicals may be present in the gas as a result of the hydraulic fracturing process through which it is obtained.
“What’s in the gas?” asked resident Barry Elson.
Citing a series of scientific studies, he rattled off a list of the adverse effects of some of the possible chemicals are believed to have, saying that some of them are carcinogenic or mutagenic, while others have detrimental effects on the kidneys, liver and cardiovascular systems. “Why should we allow you to poison our town?” he said.
“We’re not sure what comes out of the pipeline, but all of it is regulated and controlled and disposed of properly,” said Mark Hammrich, one of the company’s project managers. “We just transport the gas, we’re not in the business of fracking or drilling.”
Resident Bill Comeaux questioned what would happen to his drinking well if the pipeline, which will be entirely underground and will pass close to his property, were to leak.
“If there’s an accident, who will take care of my well?” he said.
In response to Comeaux concerns, Hammrich said the pipeline is a closed system, and that because the gas is lighter than air it would rise through the ground and dissipate into the atmosphere instead of becoming stuck into the ground.
“There will not be any gas being fracked along the length of the pipeline,” Hammrich said.
Many of the residents in attendence took issue with what they perceived as the representatives’ tendency to point the finger at the companies that frack the gas itself, insisting that they are only the middle man in the process.
“You keep saying ‘We’re just the messenger.’ Well, we’re the people who live here,” said a Conway resident who identified himself only as Zee. “You get the money and we get the possibility of having our homes destroyed.”
Local governments have no say over the envisioned $3 billion to $4 billion pipeline, and while the state Legislature may have some say over its route, it is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that is the agency that licenses such interstate energy projects.
The currently proposed 300-mile route for the 30-inch diameter pipe cuts through Conway, Ashfield, Shelburne, Deerfield, Montague, Erving, Warwick, Orange and Northfield.