Kinder Morgan

Gas pipeline arouses opposition in the Berkshires

By MIRANDA WILLSON, for ecoRI News (ecori.org)

Compared to high-profile pipeline projects such as the Keystone XL oil pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline, the proposed Connecticut Expansion Project seems relatively innocuous at first glance, only spanning 13.4 miles in three distinct locations in New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

But the 3.8-mile stretch of pipeline proposed in Berkshire County, Mass., has been met with resistance from environmental activists, local and state officials, state agencies, a Native American organization and residents of Sandisfield, the town of 915 through which the pipeline would run.

Criticisms of the project include: its passing through Otis State Forest; the environmental impacts of the natural gas it would transport; a perceived lack of market need for that gas; the damaging of ceremonial stones along the route of the pipeline sacred to an Indian tribe; the process by which the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee (FERC) approved the project.

As a result of multiple legal challenges, the project is more than a year behind schedule. But as the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. (TGP), the subsidiary of Kinder Morgan that is developing the project, finished clearing the 30 affected acres of Otis State Forest last week, the likelihood of stopping or significantly delaying the pipeline’s construction is decreasing.

Otis State Forest had been conserved under Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution for decades, until Kinder Morgan sued the state in March 2016 for a 2-mile easement through the forest. Two months later, Berkshire County Superior Court ruled in favor of Kinder Morgan, arguing that the Natural Gas Act of 1938, which permits eminent domain powers to interstate pipeline companies, overruled the Massachusetts Constitution.

One activist coalition in opposition to the pipeline, Sugar Shack Alliance, protested in the forest in late April and early May of 2016 in the hopes of preventing TGP from felling trees. At least 24 members of the coalition have been arrested for attempting to block construction and charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct. Their charges were recently reduced to civil citations, according to Abby Ferla, a spokeswoman for the Sugar Shack Alliance.

Ferla said that though the group was unable to save the affected forestland, its members will continue to fight the project.

“We’re looking at a stage in our resistance where we’re shifting away from trying to protect the forest, because that ship has sailed, and refocusing our energies on keeping this pipeline out of the ground,” she said.

Ferla noted that the Sugar Shack Alliance aims to resist all new investments in fossil fuels because of the threat of climate change and what the group characterizes as negative environmental health and justice issues associated with fossil fuels.

Another organization, No Fracked Gas in Mass!, opposes the pipeline project for similar reasons. Co-founder Rosemary Wessel questioned the market need for the gas, likely being obtained via hydraulic fracturing (fracking), that the pipeline will transport to customers in Connecticut.

“This [pipeline] was based on an old projection of an increase in gas use that never manifested,” Wessel said. “As far as Connecticut goes, there hasn’t been an increased use in gas; it’s actually stalled. ... So why bring all of this destruction to the environment and put people’s lives at risk?”

FERC’s March 11, 2016 Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for the project, however, asserts that the need for the gas for Connecticut customers is evident and that No Fracked Gas in Mass! and another opposition group, Massachusetts PipeLine Awareness Network (MassPLAN), cited studies that “do not support the commenters’ arguments.”

Another issue brought up by project opponents is FERC’s approval process. According to Katy Eiseman, director of MassPLAN, a group of Sandisfield residents requested a rehearing of the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity shortly after it was issued. In response, FERC issued a tolling order to give itself more time to decide on the request.

“The effect of [the tolling order] is that because there’s not a final decision from the agency, the petitioners or landowners are not able to go to court, so they’re just stuck in this bureaucratic, regulatory limbo,” Eiseman said. “This is a common practice; FERC just doesn’t do anything.”

Sandisfield resident Jean Atwater-Williams also complained of the commission’s tolling order. Atwater-Williams is one of several Sandisfield homeowners whose property is being acquired by TGP, as part of the pipeline route in Massachusetts goes through private land.

Atwater-Williams said FERC told her that it couldn’t grant a rehearing request because it has lacked a quorum since Feb. 3, 2017, when commissioner Norman Bay stepped down. She and others, however, note that FERC nevertheless issued a “notice to proceed” with the project on April 12, despite three of its five commissioner positions were vacant.

Mary O’Driscoll, FERC’s director of media relations, said the commission’s issuing of the tolling order was done so that it could have more time to consider the landowners’ request, and that it ultimately chose not to grant the rehearing. She also noted that FERC didn’t approve the project without a quorum, but only issued a notice to proceed, and that the commission has granted some authority to other staff members due to its lack of a quorum, which she said is within its right.

But three prominent Massachusetts politicians have criticized FERC’s issuing of the notice to proceed. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey co-signed an April 19 letter to FERC asking the commission to revoke the notice because of its lack of a quorum. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., whose district includes Sandisfield, wrote a similar letter to FERC on April 25.

Another legal player in the opposition camp, the Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Office (NITHPO), also issued FERC a request for a rehearing on the notice to proceed. Anne Marie Garti, an attorney for NITHPO, said the tribe is opposed to the project because it impacts ceremonial stone landscapes that are sacred.

She said that because FERC issued a certificate to TGP before the company had completed an archeological survey of the site, FERC violated Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, which requires federal agencies to “take into account the effects of their undertakings on historic properties” and obtain public input before approving of a project.

Though TGP has insisted that it consulted with the tribe and that it will return all affected ceremonial stones after the pipeline is constructed, Garti said removing the stones destroys their religious and cultural significance.

NITHPO is currently awaiting a response from FERC on its request for a rehearing and on other papers it has filed.

TGP has asked FERC to address the claims and motions of NITHPO and MassPLAN, which the company characterized as exaggerated and unfounded. Representatives from Kinder Morgan and TGP declined to comment for this story.

Meanwhile, MassPLAN is shifting its efforts to lobby the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to ensure that TGP complies with water quality and other environmental regulations.

Atwater-Williams said Sandisfield residents are unsure what, if anything, they will do next.

“At this point, we’re considering our legal options, but there aren’t many avenues left for us,” she said.

As the pipeline is expected to be in service by Nov. 1, Atwater-Williams worries about potential impacts it could have on her property, which is 270 feet from the pipeline, and on area wildlife. Though she and her husband were compensated for the portions of their property that the company acquired, she feels it’s not enough to make up for the permanent damage it has caused.

“My husband [always says], ‘I would pay them to go away,’” Atwater-Williams said. “We didn’t want the money and we didn’t need the money. We wanted to be left alone.”

Build that gas pipeline; noisy times

Because of pollution, global warming and global geopolitics, we obviously need to move away from fossil fuels, especially coal and oil, but also natural gas. Still, our economy will primarily run on fossil fuels for a few more decades as we move too slowly away from them. The least dirty one — and quite cheap now — is gas.  

New England, if it’s to remain economically competitive with the rest of the country, must have access to more gas, of which there’s lots nearby, in Pennsylvania and upstate New York. The best way to obtain it is to build a 180-mile-long pipeline from central New York to a transmission hub in Dracut, north of Boston, as proposed by Kinder Morgan, the big pipeline company. However, it’s tougher than ever to get big things done in America. Well-heeled interest groups can hold up projects indefinitely, whatever the public interest. This is happening in the northern part of western and central Massachusetts, where some big landowners are trying to keep out the project. Many people understandably don’t want a pipeline across their acres, even with generous payments from the likes of Kinder. But New England has been on the edge of disaster several times in recent years when bad weather, and that gas is used for heating, cooking and electricity-generation, forcea utilities to turn to highly polluting oil when the gas-pipeline system — built originally only for heating and cooking — can’t meet demand, notably in cold waves.

 

We’ve barely missed region-wide blackouts. Meanwhile, New England’s pipeline-capacity deficit makes our energy bills higher and ability to expand business lower, and undermines economic-development planning. The engineering consultants Black & Veatch, in a study for the New England States Committee on Electricity, warns that severe gas shortages threaten the reliability of our electricity grid over the next few years. Many foes of pipelines (or at least of pipelines that go through their property, who tend to be affluent and thus can own a lot of land and can afford to hire lawyers to fight public projects) say that if we must have new pipelines, then let’s run them only along big roads and existing pipeline routes.

 

But that would be too limiting to meet a market demand that some experts project might increase 50 percent in the next few years. And it would require digging up more land in densely populated areas, much of it inhabited by low-income people. But then, the affluent, the biggest energy consumers on a per-capita basis, have always been more than happy to have the energy infrastructure that supports their lifestyles put in places where low-income people without easy access to lawyers and politicians live. Consider comedian Bill Cosby and his wife, who own hundreds of acres of tax-favored protected land that the pipeline might cross and are vehemently fighting it.

 

 

It  all recalls the old line about taxes, attribute to Russell Long: "Don't tax you, don't tax me; tax the man behind the tree''.

  Pipeline foes, as have wind-turbine opponents, cite the alleged environmental dangers of such projects. In the case of Kinder proposal, Mr. Cosby complains that “flora and fauna” would be imperiled. But they’re far more threatened by the air and water pollution and climate change caused by digging up and burning oil and coal than by the relatively clean gas extracted by fracking and put into pipelines.

  Then there’s the demand for the absurd promise that the pipeline would never leak or explode. But nothing is 100 percent safe. We’d have no modern civilization without risk, in the case of gas pipelines very low. And foes don’t mention the much greater dangers of tanker trucks and railroad cars carrying gas.

  Regulators and political leaders should push to take by eminent domain whatever land is needed for the Kinder project so that the region’s economy and, yes, environment can benefit from long-overdue gas-pipeline expansion. *** My wife and I went to a wedding at a Brooklyn restaurant almost under the famous bridge last Saturday. It has one of the world’s great urban views.

  We were New Yorkers back in the ’70s, and our visits evoke all sorts of memories.

  The music at such weddings used to be mostly from “The Great American Songbook.” Now it might start out with a bit of Gershwin, et al. (which seems just perfect as you gaze at soaring Lower Manhattan), but fairly quickly move to ear-splitting, conversation-stopping hip hop, expeditiously eliminating the romance in a much richer and cleaner but in a some ways less interesting Gotham than four decades ago. (Prepare to mostly text at such functions.)

 

But then, some drugstores and gyms are almost as loud. It's the Culture of Cacophony. Even some post offices have bad rock blaring.

Meanwhile, the Metro-North Railroad has closed its last bar car. While “functioning alcoholics” were part of the clientele, most patrons exercised a disciplined conviviality. Worse, a study in the British Medical Journal says that even moderate drinking is bad for you, contrary to earlier researchers’ assertions. Thus we head deeper into a healthier (?), if less fun, era.

 

-- Robert Whitcomb