Background: Kinder-Morgan Pipeline

This text was sent to the Acton Beacon by Green Acton when the Beacon asked for some background information on the Kinder Morgan/TGP pipeline:

Because the proposed pipeline stops in Dracut and runs across the northern edge of Massachusetts, there is no direct construction impact to Acton. We do currently have a pipeline through Acton, near the Carlisle border, that is also a part of the same pipeline system, but there is no current proposal to direct the new gas through our old pipeline.

Green Acton is opposed to this proposed TGP/Kinder Morgan pipeline. (As a reminder, natural gas is used  primarily for heating buildings and for generating electricity.) New natural gas supply is not a sensible way out of our energy-supply crunch for a number of reasons:

  • Natural gas use exacerbates global warming. Leaks during production and transmission put methane — an extremely potent greenhouse gas — into the atmosphere. The ultimate burning of natural gas produces significant carbon emissions.
  • Creating new pipelines (or any new fossil fuel infrastructure) ties Massachusetts into use of that infrastructure for decades to come, when our resources ought to be directed toward energy efficiency and creation of clean-energy infrastructure.
  • There is notoriously poor oversight of this industry, and little incentive for fixing leaks and outgassing because companies get paid for what goes into the pipeline, not what comes out.
  • Plainly put, building this pipeline (or others in the Northeast) means supporting fracking (hydraulic fracturing) extraction from the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania and New York. This technology poses very significant risks to aquifers, surrounding land, and the platform geology, which it can destabilize, leading to sinkholes, and — evidence for which is mounting — greatly increased incidence of earthquakes, as is happening in Oklahoma and Texas, most pointedly. The fracking process uses more than 600 chemicals, many of which are unknown to regulators or the public. Of those that are known, many are known carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, and neurotoxins. (The now-famous image of someone lighting his tap water afire has become symbolic of the noxious impacts fracking can have on aquifers.) In addition, the mining and transport of great quantities of sand used in fracking operations release fine particles of silica into the air, leading to a variety of serious health problems.
  • Fracked gas pipelines can also mean risks to property owners: property value reduction, banks unwilling to grant mortgages, and insurance companies unwilling to insure. Recent publications have pointed to property value losses of 10–22% in New York and Pennsylvania for properties even as far as a couple of miles from fracking wells.
  • Siphoning resources to natural gas development for electricity generation slows down the deployment of cleaner sources of energy, such as solar, wind, small hydro, geothermal, wave technology, etc.
  • Transporting natural gas brings myriad safety and environmental risks. (Witness the explosions that have riddled the country of late.) Leaks also degrade water, air, and soil, contaminating resources on which humans and wildlife depend. Communities along the way should not need to suffer these risks.
  • Ratepayers should not have to pay for construction of pipelines that tie us into natural gas use and its concomitant risks while profiting the utility companies.
  • The proposed pipeline capacity goes well beyond the region’s projected needs. The natural gas that would be moved through this pipeline is destined largely for export. Selling U.S. natural gas overseas represents the same problems as deploying it here, but the overall impact might be even more dire because world markets can absorb much greater volumes of natural gas than New England can.

In terms of our state Legislature’s role in the permitting of such pipeline projects, Green Acton points to Article 97 of the state Constitution, which includes this language: “The people shall have the right to clean air and water, freedom from excessive and unnecessary noise, and the natural, scenic, historic, and esthetic qualities of their environment; and the protection of the people in their right to the conservation, development and utilization of the agricultural, mineral, forest, water, air and other natural resources is hereby declared to be a public purpose. The general court shall have the power to enact legislation necessary or expedient to protect such rights.”

There are sounder and more-responsible approaches to our energy needs. With respect to power for heating, the most effective immediate answer to both energy supply and emissions problems is the same: an increased emphasis on efficiency, including increased home insulation and stopping air leaks. Critical parts of the longer-term answer — but important to ramp up immediately — are development of an increased supply of clean electricity (including solar and  wind), and meeting our heating and cooling needs toward high-efficiency electrical solutions, such as air-source heat pumps.

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