Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Rural Massachusetts has become ground zero in fight to stop Northeastern pipelines

In New England, where many residents rely on natural gas to get through brutal winters, there's a battle brewing over pipelines that transport shale oil and tar-sands oil, Gram Slattery reports for The Christian Science Monitor. And rural towns in Massachusetts have become ground zero in the Northeast’s pipeline fight—at least when it concerns the transportion of shale oil.

At the heart of the debate are small towns like Deerfield, Mass., where the 180-mile Northeast Energy Direct pipeline is slated to run right through farmland, carrying "fracked gas from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale Fields across the seam of northern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire," Slattery writes. Local landowners, environmental activists and concerned citizens across the region "say the construction of new fossil-fuels infrastructure is a step in the wrong direction in an era of increased wind, solar and hydropower. They also say the pipeline, which will open up a 50-foot-wide gash across Massachusetts, will harm the state’s most pristine forests and increasingly scarce farmlands." (Proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline)

Dozens of towns have already made their voices heard, passing measures opposing the pipeline, Slattery writes. "A march involving 1,500 Bay Staters concluded at the State House July 30, when activists delivered 10,300 signatures opposing the project. Two days earlier, three environmental advisers to Massachusetts Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick resigned their posts to protest the pipeline proposal."

Critics "say the project will bring steadier heating and electricity to a region where winter energy bills can be ruinous," Slattery writes. "They point out that Massachusetts has been shutting down dirty coal plants in recent years. And by year's end, Vermont will shutter the controversial Yankee Nuclear Power Plant in Vernon. As recently as 2008, the 40-year-old power plant provided 72 percent of the Green Mountain State’s electricity."

"As a result, New England residents have been relying more and more on natural gas, which has jumped from the region's fourth-most-used source of electricity in 2000 to its most used today," Slattery writes. "The problem, according to pipeline advocates, is that the infrastructure to support this reliance on natural gas during cold snaps isn’t yet there—causing extreme price volatility in the winter months."

"New England’s five progressive governors also see gas pipelines as a potential boon for the environment, a position that puts them philosophically at odds with the protesters," Slattery writes. "The natural gas that will coarse through the 36-inch-wide pipe, the governors say, will allow the region to continue weaning itself from what they describe as dirtier sources of energy, like coal and oil heat."

Opponents fear the environmental risks of fracking, Slattery writes. The pipeline requires approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but protesters are pressuring state legislators to bar the project. (Read more)

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