Legislators, groups concerned about pipeline project planned for Agawam


  • Jo Comerford running for Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester District Senate Seat. —STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/11/2019 7:28:38 PM

Hundreds of individuals and 40 organizations — including newly elected Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, and two newly elected Hampshire County state legislators, along with the Ashfield Affinities Group, Solar Store of Greenfield and StopNED (Northeast Energy Direct) — have signed on to comments submitted to federal regulators as part of an environmental assessment of Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.’s proposed 261 Upgrade Projects planned for Agawam.

The upgrades are part of the Columbia Gas “Reliability Plan,” which includes a new pipeline across West Springfield and other expansions in its Greater Springfield service area.

The projects, for which TGP applied last October, would create 72,400 dekatherms per day of additional capacity on the company’s existing system by installing 2.1 miles of 12-inch diameter loop running parallel and adjacent to the pipeline that’s there, according to the company. It also involves removing an inactive 6-inch diameter pipeline and replacing it with 12-inch diameter pipeline loop in some locations, while also replacing two turbine compressors with a single cleaner-burning compressor, and installing of auxiliary facilities at the existing compressor station.

TGP had proposed the Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline through Franklin County, but that was halted in 2016 because of insufficient demand. The company hopes to begin construction on the Agawam project in March 2020 and have them operational that November. 

In its comments Monday, also endorsed by state representatives Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, and Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, the Columbia Gas Resistance Campaign pointed to concerns about the Sept. 13 explosions and fires in the Merrimack Valley, which cast serious doubts on the safety of the TGP projects, which are designed to ensure delivery of more gas to Columbia Gas of Massachusetts.

“It is not lost on us that Columbia was also the company responsible for the 2012 explosion in downtown Springfield,” the statement reads. “We believe that these developments — including ongoing state and federal investigations — should weigh heavily in the commission’s analysis under its National Environmental Policy Act review.”

Another concern is that “the stated need for the project has been vastly overblown, with Columbia Gas speculating unrealistic gas demand growth in the region to support its expansion proposal. Many local communities are committed to reduced energy use and the conversion to locally-sourced renewable energy.”

Other concerns raised in the comments include the project’s contributions to climate change, to worsening air quality in the region and the impacts on wetlands, stream and riverfront areas, endangered and threatened species and soils and agriculture.

“Less costly and more environmentally sustainable alternatives to the project include more aggressive home energy efficiency interventions by Columbia Gas and greater policy emphasis on and subsidy of efficient electric heat pumps and other clean heating technologies and appliances,” said Susan Theberge of Northampton, an organizer with Climate Action Now. 

According to Berkshire Gas Co. spokesman Christopher Farrell, “The station 261-related projects have no effect on Berkshire Gas, or the moratorium, as there is no increased deliverability downstream to our gate station on the Northampton Lateral.” 

Katy Eiseman, president of Pipe Line Awareness for the Northeast, which submitted its own comments to FERC on Dec. 27, said, the project could potentially impact Berkshire’s system in the Pioneer Valley, “because they exclusively get their pipeline gas off that Northampton lateral. It potentially would allow for more gas into Franklin County,” because it would likely provide more gas than the Columbia system needs.

While she acknowledged that could potentially relieve constraint’s on Berkshire’s supply, if the company contracted to buy that excess gas, Eiseman said, “Pipeline constraints are beneficial in catalyzing cleaner solutions and energy efficiency. It’s time to look at cleaner solutions.”


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