Dr. Mehernosh Khan: How will pipeline movie turn out?



In part one of "How will pipeline movie turn out? (Eagle op-ed, June 19), a corporation headed by mad scientists Drs. Minder and Korgan had successfully plotted to extend a pipeline carrying hydro-fractured gas across Massachusetts to the detriment of the environment and increasing our addiction to fossil fuels.

Here is a second scenario.

The year is 2025:

TO NOT TGP? (Tennessee Gas Pipeline Extension)

A commuter flying the shuttle for the first time from New York to PBAN (Pittsfield/ Berkshire Air Node) on a sunny day and looking out of his window, as the aircraft banked for landing, would be dazzled by the sheer number of photo voltaic panels stretching out to the horizon. It would seem that almost every southward facing rooftop had panels gleaming in the sunlight. Collectively, it looked like some fantastic city out of Oz.

And then there were the solar farms. In 2020, the state of Massachusetts passed Act 25 which basically allowed banks to provide ultra-low interest loans to anyone wanting a solar farm on their property. The landowner would use the loan to purchase and install large arrays of solar panels and also agree to maintain them. Utility companies would guarantee to buy the electricity at a fixed rate for the life of the panels. The farmer would then pay off the mortgage and also make a small profit. As a result, Massachusetts today, in the year 2025, was 98 percent free of fossil fuels, and the poster boy for the Clean Energy Party (formerly the Green Party) which had recently shaken up the old politicos by gaining majority representation in the Senate!


But if we are to put this incredible victory over fossil fuel into perspective, we have to go back in time to the spring of 2014, when a 36-inch diameter pipeline was proposed to carry high pressure gas fracked from the Marcellus shale formations of Pennsylvania and New York, across Massachusetts. Almost overnight, grass root organizations like nofrackedgasinmass.org; MASSPLAN (Massachusetts Pipe Line Awareness Network) and BEAT (Berkshire Environmental Action Team) galvanized the local population as community after community signed petitions and harangued their representatives and senators that support of the pipeline was certain political suicide at the polls.

Because of all the opposition, there was a crazy plan floated to run the pipeline along the Mass Turnpike corridor. Fortunately, some smart engineers on the highway commission figured out that an explosion or a major leak of the pipeline could result in a loss of billions of dollars in revenue as all Interstate truck and commercial traffic would be blocked for weeks during the cleanup.

Supporters of the pipeline claimed that it would provide cheap and safely transported fuel and increase the capacity to produce electricity for local energy needs from relatively clean-burning natural gas which was considered a bridge fuel until renewables such as solar and wind could be developed in the next two decades or so. Then there would be the added benefit of thousands of jobs that would be needed to maintain the pipeline. So let’s separate the myth from reality!

Cheap safely transported fuel myth: As the demand for natural gas spikes in Europe and Asia and prices climb in the commodity market, the price of natural gas in local markets will also increase, a simple equation of supply and demand. Regarding safety, as per federal statistics, safety-related incidents -- everything from unintentional fires to spills -- rose from 45 total incidents in 2000 to 142 in 2011 and was expected to triple that number by 2014 as more pipeline is laid down. And also keep in mind that low level leaks and spills do not have to be reported at all!

Increased capacity to produce electricity myth: By increasing insulation in houses, switching to heat pumps and federal tax credits for using and installing renewables, (solar and wind) there would be less overall demand for electricity. Also by fixing leaks of existing pipelines (almost 25 percent of all natural gas extracted is leaked into the atmosphere) and using storage of electricity during off peak hours (think electric cars) are some strategies that could be used to increase efficiencies.


Relatively clean burning myth: According to The Physicians for Social Responsibility, the process of gas fracking actually produces more greenhouse gases than coal.

Bridge fuel myth: In the next 10 years, extraction of Marcellus shale gas is expected to be slowing down due to infrastructure expenses and availability of water and it is doubtful if the wells will be economically productive in the next 20 years. In other words it is a non- renewable and finite energy source. A bridge to nowhere!

Thousands of jobs myth: Most of the jobs would be wildcatters from out of state trained in pipeline installation. Less than a hundred full-time jobs would be created to maintain the pipeline.

And so it came to pass that the Massachusetts Legislature in its wisdom (and with upcoming elections) passed a moratorium for the development of natural gas infrastructure in 2018 and instead put billions of dollars into renewables. And in 2020, carbon dioxide emissions as measured by the NASA carbon data satellite actually showed Massachusetts to be one of the lowest in the U.S. and dropping.

This movie had a happy ending!

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


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