PITTSFIELD -- Environmentalists in counties along a proposed new natural gas line route across northern Massachusetts are gearing up to oppose the Tennessee Gas Pipeline plan.

"Technically, it's speculative," said Bruce Winn, president of Berkshire Environmental Action Team, but he believes the company wants to move quickly in seeking permits if a viable route can be found.

"It would go right through here," Winn said.

In recent weeks, Tennessee Gas Pipeline has contacted landowners along the tentative route, seeking permission to do survey work. The route is expected to angle northeast from an existing gas line coming from New York into Richmond; it would then pass through Lenox and other Berkshire towns, and towns in Franklin County and possibly Hampshire County on its way east to Dracut.

Interest in organizing in the Berkshires to oppose the project is not yet as evolved as in Franklin and Hampshire counties, Winn said, but he added that BEAT recently received a number of calls from residents seeking information. He said he expects the environmental organization will act as a lead group here and provide information.

Winn, a member of the adjunct environmental science faculty at Berkshire Community College, will speak March 8 in Cummington to a rapidly forming Hampshire County citizen group. He said objections to the project include the likelihood gas extracted through controversial fracking techniques will be delivered to Massachusetts.

"They [Tennessee Gas] are pushing that," he said, referring to the large new gas reserves being extracted by the fracking method, which has led to lower costs but also, opponents argue, to unacceptable environmental damage to water supplies and in the release of methane into the atmosphere.

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

"We don't want fracked gas," Winn said. "It is not a selling point with us."

Other major concerns, he said, include the gas line industry's history of gas line leaks and related problems, as well as the wetlands and other sensitive areas that the proposed line would pass through. "There would be damage beyond fracking," Winn said. "This would go through a lot of very sensitive wetlands areas."

Concerning the lines themselves, Winn said methane leaking from gas lines has been shown to have up to 30 times the greenhouse gas effect of carbon dioxide. That, he said, should be counted against the overall positive effect of using natural gas as an alternative to coal or other fossil fuels to produce electricity.

Expansion of renewable energy sources and energy conservation through insulation of older properties and other initiatives is a better alternative for Massachusetts, he said.

Rosemary Wessel of Cummington said a group she and a few other citizens recently formed, nofrackedgasinmass.org, has been gathering information about the gas line project and keeping residents informed. She said Winn will speak to the group March 8 at 1 p.m. at the Community House on Main Street, or Route 9.

In addition to a map of where the proposed line might be located, the group has posted the latest projections for each town believed to be in the path -- noting that Tennessee Gas has contacted landowners or the town with survey requests and it is considered likely or just a possibility the town will be involved.

Other than the desire to keep fracked gas out of Massachusetts, Wessel said the group has concerns about the wetlands, farmland and forest areas in the projected pathway. "We are against this pipeline and favor alternative forms of energy," she said.

The Cummington group also is drafting a resolution to submit to town meeting voters in May and members hope it will be used as a model for other communities. It calls on the town select board to oppose the project and for state and federal legislators to oppose any pipeline that would carry fracked gas into the state.

The group's website is at www.nofrackedgasinmass.org and includes information on each town in the area of the proposed project. 

Berkshire County towns considered by the group likely to be in the path if the line is constructed are Richmond, Lenox, Pittsfield, and Dalton. Those listed as possibly in the path are Hancock, Hinsdale, Peru, Savoy, Stockbridge, Washington, West Stockbridge and Windsor.

The citizen group's draft town meeting resolution can be viewed at www.nofrackedgasinmass.org/non-binding-resolution-for-towns.

Another group, Climate Action Now!, plans a meeting on March 5 at 7 p.m. at the Co-Op Power facility on Routes 5 and 10 in Hatfield. The purpose, according to a website posting, is a "Valley organizing meeting on resistance" to the gas pipeline plan.

More information about the group is available at http://climateactionnowma.org

Richard Wheatley, a spokesman for Tennessee Gas Co.'s parent firm, Kinder Morgan Inc. of Houston, has said the proposal is in response to an increased demand for natural gas in the region, including for heating and for gas-fired electric power generation facilities.

Tennessee Gas transports and stores natural gas for its customers with a pipeline from Texas and the Gulf of Mexico to the Northeast.

The new line, according to a map on a company website, would follow the existing line path into Richmond and then head north toward Greenfield and across the state just below the New Hampshire border. At this point, the company has stated, it is gauging the feasiblity of the route and of the commerical feasiblity.

To reach Jim Therrien:
jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6247
On Twitter: @BE_therrien