Richmond residents rally against gas pipeline


RICHMOND -- Tennessee Gas Pipeline's "Northeast Expansion" project, which would traverse Richmond and much of northern Massachusetts, has plenty of critics in this small Berkshire municipality.

More than 50 people applauded Bruce Winn, of Berkshire Environmental Action Team, after he lambasted the gas giant's plans -- often using the company's own material to do so -- at a recent informational meeting.

The project, Winn argued, isn't necessary for Massachusetts' energy needs, runs contrary to aggressive state carbon-reduction goals and poses significant environmental risks. He said those would occur both here and in the places where hydraulic fracturing goes on, like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, and possibly New York in the future, as the pipeline would carry fracked gas.

And if Tennessee Gas, a Kinder Morgan Inc. subsidiary, gets its project approved, he said, residents will be paying for the 250-mile, 36-inch line, which would run from Richmond to Dracut in the state and cost approximately $2 billion.

"Right now the proposal has ratepayers funding this pipeline," Winn said. "Richard Kinder [is worth $9.4 billion]. A multi-billionaire is asking us to pay for a pipeline so he can sell his product in Europe."

Winn presented company maps that showed the new Massachusetts line headed north from Dracut toward Canada, destined for foreign markets, where natural gas doubles and triples in value in Europe and Asia, respectively.

Gas from the pipeline would only be for gas-fired electric power generation facilities, not home heating, according to company descriptions of the project.

Winn showed current figures demonstrating Massachusetts' steady growth in renewable energies like solar and wind and similar expansion in the single biggest growing energy source -- conservation.

Building a new pipeline would be regression at this point, Winn argued. "Natural gas is largely responsible getting us off coal and oil," he said. "It worked beautifully as a bridge fuel. Now we need to go beyond."

The company wants to start construction on its new pipeline in late 2016/early 2017 and have it in service by November, 2018. It has pointed to increased demand for natural gas in the region and the 3,000 jobs the project would create.

"The gas they want to bring in is over 10 times as much as needed for Massachusetts markets," said Rosemary Wessel, of the Cummington-based group nofrackedgasinmass, another speaker at the meeting. "We found company memos that stated that they're looking for developers to turn it into liquid natural gas, which is a way to ship it. Basically, we're left holding the bag -- the environmental damage, the cost -- and they get to sell gas."

Wessel got a show of around 10 hands when she asked who'd already been approached by the company.

For these people, a third speaker, Amherst attorney Peter Vickery, had some simple advice: Hold out as long as possible.

State law would permit the company to take land by eminent domain if an agreement with the property owner can't be reached and if it possesses a permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, for which it has applied.

"It's almost always more than the initial offer," Vickery said. "We're all rational economic actors and so are the pipeline companies. Be mindful that you can get more."

Similar meetings to the one in town Saturday are being held in towns all along the proposed line, which heads north toward Greenfield and across the state just below the New Hampshire border. Lenox is another Berkshire County town the proposed line would traverse.

To reach Phil Demers:
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On Twitter: @BE_PhilD


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