DALTON -- Growing demand for natural gas in New England is the driving force behind a proposed new pipeline that would run through a number of Berkshire communities.
That was the message from a representative of Texas-based pipeline company Kinder Morgan on Tuesday night before a skeptical crowd of more than 100 people at Nessacus Middle School in Dalton.
Allen Fore, director of public affairs with Kinder Morgan, insisted that critics who contend that gas transported through the pipeline would be shipped off to overseas markets are engaging in "pure speculation."
During a special Select Board meeting, Kinder Morgan representatives gave presentations about the proposed pipeline project, followed by presentations from the Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT) and No Fracked Gas in Mass., both of which strongly oppose the project.
The company hopes to install a 250-mile pipeline that would begin in New York, enter the Berkshires in Richmond and follow a proposed route through eight Berkshire communities, ending in Dracut, north of Lowell. Opposition to the project has been mounting from local governments as well as state and federal representatives.
Among the concerns are the environmental impact and safety of local communities that host the pipeline, opposition to the use of a controversial technique known as fracking, which is used to extract the gas elsewhere; and the belief that the gas would simply pass through the Berkshires on its way to markets abroad and provide no benefit to local communities.
But Fore said the pipeline is needed infrastructure amid a growing demand for natural gas -- a situation that has been acknowledged by a number of governors. He said the project would create new jobs, its construction would have a minimal impact on the environment, and transmission pipes are generally safe.
New England gas companies -- Berkshire Gas included -- make up the 12, long-term buyers Kinder Morgan has identified and is working with on the new project, Fore said.
After hitting Dracut, the gas would head toward customers in Maine.
"Our customers are saying it's a necessity; they need more gas," Fore said. "This is what we're basing our project on."
Once the necessary federal permitting is acquired, another Kinder representative said, the company would take plots of land by eminent domain if necessary -- even if those numbered in the hundreds.
"We hope you don't say no but under the circumstances we would have no alternative," said Jim Hartman, the company's Connecticut-based right of way agent, drawing derisive laughter from the crowd.
Jane Winn of Berkshire Environmental Action Team said the company is obviously positioning itself be an overseas supplier.
The Maritimes and Northeast Pipeline recently applied with the federal government to reverse the flow of one of its lines, Winn noted, allowing it to send gas from Dracut to the Canadian Maritimes, where it can be liquefied and shipped abroad.
Winn also disputed Fore's contention that somehow the technology to ship liquid natural gas didn't exist, showing news articles in major business journals about a coming boom, as Canadian companies are poised to begin shipping billions of metric tons of liquefied natural gas to Western Europe.
"And, yes, they're planning on getting their gas from the Maritime Pipeline," she said.
Even if regional natural energy needs were so great, Winn added, it could be better serviced by continued investment in renewable energy -- which could create thousands more jobs than any pipeline buildout -- and enhanced efforts at energy conservation.
She also pointed out that governors have recently cooled on the issue, with Gov. Deval Patrick stressing the need for thorough review and Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin expressing similar concerns.
Massachusetts' two senators, Edward J. Markey and Elizabeth Warren, have come out strongly against the project in addition to local legislators like Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, and state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox.
Rosemary Wessell, co-founder of No Fracked Gas in Mass pointed out that a regular part of maintaining transmission pipes involves releasing considerable amounts of methane -- which is linked to cancer and endocrine disruption -- into the atmosphere.
Dalton Water Superintendent Gilbert Rudd Jr. raised a specific concern with the tentative route through town the company has identified, noting it passes within 800 feet of Cleveland Reservoir, a source of drinking water for 60,000 area residents.
A project manager present at the meeting said the route could change and that "we've got some work to do in that area."
Fore ended his presentation by reminding the audience that a long road lay ahead.
"As we stand here tonight, not a single document has been filed from a permitting standpoint," he said. "But we are going to soon."
Next month the company plans to move forward to the "pre-filing" stage, which involves a formal review, which includes many opportunities for public input.
The company hope to have the line in service by the winter of 2018.
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