LENOX -- As a proposed Tennessee Gas Co. natural gas pipeline project through the Northeast begins to take shape, local officials are closely watching the potential impact.

Lenox, Richmond, Washington and several other communities are on the path of the 250-mile Northeast Pipeline Expansion Project extending from upstate New York, across western and northern Massachusetts to Dracut, a town north of Lowell near the New Hampshire border. The 36-inch pipeline project is preliminary and would require federal and state permits.

Construction of the $2.75 billion to $3.75 billion project could begin in April 2017 with completion by November 2018, according to internal documents supplied by Kinder Morgan Inc., the Houston-based parent company of Tennessee Gas Pipeline.

"The project is of sufficient scale to address the long-term energy needs of New England and Atlantic Canada by providing access to abundant new supplies," the company's project overview states. "These significant volumes should lower the price of gas in New England energy markets and enhance reliability of gas and electricity grids."

When voters attend the May 1 annual town meeting at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School, they'll find a citizens' petition by environmental advocate Lee Scott Laugenour urging the Select Board to take a firm stand against the high-pressure pipeline designed to deliver hydraulic-fractured ("fracked") natural gas.

"Fracking" involves the injection of water and chemicals under high pressure into underground rock formations to release gas trapped there.

Asked by The Eagle whether any gas would be shipped overseas, Melissa Ruiz, manager of corporate communications for Kinder Morgan, stated: "The gas would be delivered to the Northeast region, but that really depends on where potential shippers wish to transport the gas. The Northeast Expansion Project is in response to the growing needs for natural gas in the New England region. Kinder Morgan is in the process of negotiating definitive agreements with customers that will ultimately determine where the gas will be delivered."

The citizens' petition urges the Lenox Selectmen to oppose any pipeline carrying hydrofracked natural gas through the community.

The warrant article, which is advisory, also asks the Select Board "to instruct our state and federal legislators and executive branch officials to enact legislation" to disallow such projects. It also seeks legislation for "more stringent energy efficiency, carbon and methane emissions restrictions" along with exploration and subsidies for renewable energy sources.

"We obviously have our eye on the pipeline," said Town Manager Christopher Ketchen. For informational purposes, he has been in touch with representatives of Kinder Morgan Inc., the nation's third-largest energy supplier.

"They're trying to figure out a path," he said. "Right now, there are just the proverbial lines somebody drew on a map. There's nothing concrete yet."

"Every step of the way," he explained, "the town manager's office will be trying to keep track of what the plans are to the extent that the town has a role to play. Wherever this goes, we'll make sure that the town's interests are protected."

At their Feb. 5 meeting, the Selectmen granted permission for Tennessee Gas representatives to enter town land for civil and environmental surveys. Some individual property owners have been contacted, but they have the right to deny access to the surveyors.

However, if an agreement with a property owner is not reached, state law would allow the company to take land by eminent domain once it secures a permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

At community meetings, Kinder Morgan Public Affairs Director Allen Fore has conceded landowners would be inconvenienced by the construction, but once the pipeline is completed, it should not be noticeable and the land above can be used for anything but trees and structures.

The company would negotiate with each property owner and pay a one-time price for a 50-foot right of way and a temporary right of way for construction, he said.

This past week, Lenox Selectman Channing Gibson told The Eagle there are two possible pipeline routes through the town along existing utility company corridors -- an AT&T right-of-way and a WMECO utility line. Potential areas affected include Lenox Mountain, a swamp off Undermountain Road, Reservoir Road, the town watershed, a portion of Kennedy Park, a crossover of Routes 7 and 20, and a path through Eastover Resort.

The town meeting petition, signed by 10 citizens, was launched at a meeting of the Green Rainbow Party Town Committee, which Laugenour chairs.

"I don't like the idea of encouraging ‘fracked-gas' infrastructure when we should be encouraging renewables," said Laugenour.

The gas would be supplied from Marcellus and Utica supplies, found in portions of West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and western New York. It's the largest source of natural gas in the U.S.

"We're a Green Community," Laugenour pointed out. He plans to explain the petition before the voters and encourage pro-and-con discussion during the 7 p.m. May 1 annual meeting at the Lenox Memorial Middle and High School.

"It's an opportunity for the people to weigh in and give the Select Board a sense of their sentiments," he said. "Town Meeting is a great vehicle for debate, to capture the essence of what the town is thinking."

At a recent meeting of more than 50 citizens in Richmond, Bruce Winn of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team contended the project isn't necessary for the state's energy needs, runs contrary to aggressive state carbon-reduction goals and poses significant environmental risks.

Information from the Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise was included in this report.

To contact Clarence Fanto:
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