Editorial: Vir. gas pipeline ruling reverberates in Bay State

  • Altered signs in Montague Center. Staff file photo/PAUL FRANZ

Published: 1/14/2020 1:30:18 PM
Modified: 1/14/2020 1:29:30 PM

Many in Franklin County think the prospect of a natural gas pipeline through our towns is not dead, but only resting until the price of natural gas goes up enough to make it look profitable to a utility. Indeed, with heightened tension in the Middle East, the price of crude oil has already risen — and with it the renewed specter of a natural gas pipeline through our area. That’s why a court ruling in Virginia against Dominion Energy for its Atlantic Coast Pipeline is reverberating through the Bay State.

A little history: For many in Franklin County, The Recorder’s headline of the year 2016 was: “Pipeline halted” (4/20/16), when Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. announced that it had suspended its $5 billion Northeast Energy Direct plan to run a natural gas pipeline through eight Franklin County towns on its route from Wright, N.Y., to Dracut. The project, first announced in early 2014, had originally been planned with an alignment through Orange and Athol as well as Ashfield, Conway, Shelburne, Deerfield, Montague, Erving, Northfield and Warwick. That route was altered late in 2014 to avoid the public conservation land that would have involved controversy over Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution. Yet it still would have sited a major compressor station in Northfield, among other incursions in eight towns. Construction had been slated to begin early in 2018, with completion in time for the heating season that fall.

The pipeline faced public opposition from the moment it was announced, with elected officials and environmental organizations adding their voices in opposition to the project on the grounds that it might threaten public safety and damage the environment, that it represented a further investment in fossil fuels that could lead to further climate disruption and that a 1.2 billion cubic feet a day pipeline wasn’t needed to meet local demand.

Ultimately, the company canceled it “as a result of inadequate capacity commitments from prospective customers.” The lack of need had been an argument made numerous times by towns along the route, by environmental groups and by the Franklin Regional Council of Governments. Another bone of contention was lack of input from towns. At the time, all eight towns plus their elected legislators applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for intervenor status. TGP objected, saying that the towns were not “substantially and specifically affected by the proceeding.” FERC concurred and only Montague won intervenor status. The reasoning FERC gave was that only Montague had natural gas customers, as if having one’s town torn up was not reason enough for a seat at the table.

COG Executive Committee Chairman Bill Perlman and Planning Board Chairman Jerry Lund called for changes in the process FERC used in its review of Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.’s Northeast Energy Direct project. “The FERC process was unfair and unresponsive to community and regional concerns related to environmental impacts and public health and safety,” they wrote in their letter to the region’s congressional delegation.

Fast forward to today.

Last week’s court ruling vacating a permit for a natural gas compressor station in Virginia, as reported by State House News Service, is being analyzed in Weymouth, where a natural gas compressor station has been opposed by residents. In a ruling issued last Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit said Virginia’s State Air Pollution Control Board did not sufficiently consider the consequences a proposed natural gas compressor station would have on the predominantly African-American community near its site.

Whether the case in Virginia relies more on Virginia law than Federal law remains to be seen. But any ruling on behalf of local factors and environmental justice is good news for Franklin County in the event that a natural gas pipeline should arise, vampire-like, from its defunct state.


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