PITTSFIELD

In the movie "Sliding Doors," the actress who plays the main protagonist, Gwyneth Paltrow, acts out two completely different scenarios. In one version of the movie, she misses her subway connection and her life turns out one way. In another scenario she catches her subway connection and the subsequent events have a completely different twist.

So imagine that you, the reader, are a character in a similar movie. The only problem is that while most movies claim no liability for resemblance to real characters and places, this movie maybe quite the opposite. The cast members are the real citizens of Western Massachusetts and other concerned residents; the real locations are the towns of Richmond, Lenox and all the hill towns stretching between Canaan, N.Y. and the town of Dracut just outside Boston.

The plot thickens!

An evil corporation headed by mad scientists, Drs. Minder and Korgan have plotted to extend the existing pipeline to carry hydro fractured (fracking) gas from the Marcellus Shale fields of Pennsylvania by adding a 36-inch diameter high pressure pipeline (Tennessee Gas Pipeline extension) to run between the above mentioned locations to power an electric generation plant so as to meet the future energy needs of the population. And only a small band of concerned citizens fighting a grass-root battle, stand between an almost certain destruction of the natural beauty of the Berkshires or its preservation.

How will this movie end?

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The year is 2025. This is one scenario.

TO TGP (Tennessee Gas Pipeline Extension):

It was a losing battle. After years of resolutions passed by almost every town in the path of the pipeline, and a small fortune spent on attorney fees to litigate against the legitimacy of the pipeline, (the Supreme Court decided it was a state issue) the federal government, with the blessing of the state government, gave its seal of approval.

Construction commenced in the spring of 2018. Protesters tried to block the trucks delivering the pipes to the proposed path of the pipeline. Some brave souls had even chained themselves to the bulldozers that had rolled destruction through pristine parks and wetlands. NBC and ABC news trucks covered the protests for a while, but soon, the outrage died down as some other sensational news cycle took over and the pipeline became a New England problem. As was inevitable, the media vans left as the rest of the nation grew bored with the story. But for the small towns and boroughs which the pipeline dissected, the nightmare had just begun.

If the pipeline was a scar across the heart of the Berkshires, the compressors were an open wound. Over the ditches, where the pipeline was buried, the planted grass would eventually grow thick and green, and on a fine summer’s day, you could even pretend that the pipeline never happened.

The compressors were another story. To propel the gas through the distances to its final destination, large compressor stations were built at 30-mile intervals of the length of the pipeline. Each was as large as a warehouse and ran on natural gas which powered the generators which in turn provided electricity to run the compressors. Residents as far as a mile away could hear the low growl and whine of the pumps which at close quarters were an unlivable 80 decibels.

Over the years, after construction was completed, there had been two explosions at the compressor stations. They resulted in fires that were so fierce that local firefighters were helpless to control them. Fueled by the methane that ran the generators, they were left to burn themselves out. Whole counties in the vicinity had to be evacuated for weeks as the hot toxic smoke plumes caused respiratory problems from atmospheric inversion.

In contrast, there was the eerie quiet along the hundred-foot-wide swath of the right of way that the pipeline needed as it made its way across the state. No trills of birds singing in the dawn, no chirp of crickets at dusk. Quiet! And farmers in the vicinity of the pipeline were complaining of strange illnesses in their livestock.

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At first there was no explanation. Someone suggested that the constant flight of surveillance drones, painted a menacing orange against a blue sky that crisscrossed over the pipeline to monitor for the now frequent methane leaks, kept the birds away. Then a biologist out of UMass figured it out. To improve surveillance of the pipeline, crop dusters would fly over the path of the pipeline spraying weed killer. The run-off from this spraying had an indirect impact on the insect and amphibian population causing reproductive arrest and hence the lack of avian life as a result of a disrupted food chain. Local farmers were finding high levels of weed killers in their water supply as the chemicals seeped inevitably into the aquifers and the wells that watered their sickened livestock.

The final bitter pill to swallow for the citizens of the commonwealth was the extension of the pipeline from Dracut to the port terminals in Nova Scotia and from there by large tankers to the industrial heartlands of China and Europe, where it sold at two to three times the going rate. And as local utility rates soared, the promise of cheap energy was a distant dream. We had replaced one addiction (oil) for another.

..OR NOT TO TGP: (TO BE CONTINUED).

Dr. Mehernosh Khan is a Pittsfield-based practitioner and occasional Eagle contributor.