‘No idea who they’re dealing with’
Local environmental groups mobilize to respond to planned gas pipeline
HATFIELD — The controversy over hydrofracking of shale gas came home to western Massachusetts Wednesday night, with a meeting hosted by Climate Action Now of Western Mass. to organize against the proposed Tennessee Gas Pipeline.
“These people have no idea who they’re dealing with,” said meeting organizer Susan Theberge as she began a series of discussions with people attending from around the state, many of them representing environmental organizations and groups working to combat climate change.
The 175-mile pipeline from Wright, N.Y., to Dracut, extending through Conway, Shelburne, Deerfield, Montague, Erving, Northfield, Warwick and Orange, has not been formally proposed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission yet, but numerous area residents — some of whom learned about it when approached by right-of-way agents to survey their property — are expressing opposition. Several have refused permission to have the property surveyed.
Many of the 60 or so who crammed into a small Co-Op Power meeting room for Wednesday’s session expressed opposition to the hydrofracking process, which they charge releases large quantities of methane and can contaminate groundwater and lead to hydraulic fracturing chemicals to increase earthquake activity by degrading bedrock.
Some opponents Wednesday also pointed to leaks of methane gas, a potent greenhouse gas that feeds climate change, as well as to studies suggesting that gas lines running along electric powerline rights of way can “energize” the pipes with electrical current that pose a danger of explosion.
Several critics also questioned the economic benefits that Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. and its owner, Kinder Morgan, have said would come from construction of this and a battery of other planned pipeline construction, with exports planned from proposed liquefied terminals resulting in price increases as world energy prices send domestic prices climbing.
Another public meeting is planned by Berkshire Environmental Action Team for Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Cummington Community House on Main Street, Cummington. There is also a showing of a documentary film about fracking, “Gasland: Part 1,” planned for Saturday at 6:30 p.m. in Warwick Town Hall.
“If it were any of us in this room, we probably would not think of it as a selling point to say that it’s coming from Marcellus shale” fields in Pennsylvania,” Bruce Winn of the Berkshire environmental group told the gathering as he presented pipeline investor information that shows that much of the gas destined for the 30-inch-diameter pipeline is coming from fracked gas. “But if you’re an investor, on their slides, this is prominent.”
Part of the rationale for the pipelines now in planning is for world export, Winn said, which will further stimulate fracking by the natural gas industry.
Much of the proposed TNG pipeline route passes directly through wetlands, which Winn and others said will not deter the company from finding ways to build it, nonetheless.
“I’m hoping local conservation commissions will stand their ground and put up a fight,” he said. Later, people attending were encouraged to contact their commission, as well as the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions, armed with information about the route.
Jim Cutler of Ashfield told the gathering that the company has called capital costs and “NIMBYism” the two biggest problems in building the pipeline, but added, “Probably everybody in this room has had big concerns about fracking before it came to our backyards. This isn’t something new, so we are saying, ‘Not in my backyard.’ We’re saying, ‘Not in anybody else’s backyard,’ too.”
Theberge read a research memo from the office of Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., saying that the time frame for approval by FERC of a Certificate of Public Convenience and necessity is one to two years after application is made.
“A FERC certificate confers on the developer eminent domain authority once they get the certificate,” she read from the memo, “ so in this way, a certificate provides a pipeline developer with authority to secure the property to lay the pipeline if the developer cannot secure the necessary right of way from landowners through negotiation.”
But pointing to at least 83 pipeline explosions that have taken place around the country since 2010 as a result of gas leaks, Cutler said those present needed to get busy and begin mobilizing. He advised the group, “These people know what they’re doing. So let’s get good information and use it wisely.”