Thursday, May 26, 2016

Voices of Franklin: Jim Hill - "Pipe Dreams"

Pipe Dreams

When I was a child in the 1950s my parents and grandparents bought new homes with gas heat. Since then I’ve lived in several other homes with gas. Like most of my generation natural gas has been part of our lives for a long time. So what’s wrong with that? 

Well the more I learn the more it concerns me. The very word “natural” implies that it must be good for us, but arsenic is natural too. Even the commercials look beautiful and squeaky clean, so it must be good. Right? 

But, if we dig deeper, the truth is revealed. The commercials are so effective that I sometimes forget that natural gas (NG) is a fossil fuel and that it’s really methane and that when leaked increases global warming. Or that most domestic gas is extracted by fracking, a method that uses high pressure chemical infused water to fracture shale polluting air, water, and linked to earthquakes. 

The natural gas industry tells us that fracking is safe and that it’s producing all the gas we could possibly need. They’re excited. This could produce immense profits especially when it’s exported. But what will it cost us and is there really a NG shortage due to a lack of more pipelines? Why did we have a shortage in 2014 but not in 2015. After all 2015 was colder. 

Carol Churchill at Distrigas, the company that ships liquefied natural gas into Boston, told me that her company can supply all the gas New England needs during peak demand winter days without adding pipelines. She also says the problem in 2014 was that electric utilities didn’t have enough contracts for LNG to cover peak times and in 2015 they did. 

Electric companies now imply that that the sky will fall without a pipeline. Another obscure issue is that the new pipelines will be used to export fracked gas from Nova Scotia. Spectra Energy of Houston, the pipeline builder, denies this, but here’s the evidence. Fracking is really big in Pennsylvania, home of the Marcellus shale fields. To get the fracked gas to Nova Scotia it would travel through an 889 mile pipeline that runs from Dracut through Maine. 

The proposed pipeline through Franklin and eight other towns would dramatically increase NG that would travel under Boston Harbor to Beverly on to Dracut. Spectra has already received permission to reverse the direction from Dracut to reach the Maritime Provinces. 

The following excerpt was posted by Sutherland LNG on Feb 9, 2016. 
“Bear Head LNG and Pieridae Energy each announced that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has granted them separate authority to export as LNG gas imported from the United States to each company’s proposed liquefaction and LNG export terminal in Nova Scotia, Canada. DOE’s orders authorize Bear Head LNG and Pieridae Energy to export the LNG produced from gas imported into Canada from the United States via pipeline to countries that do not have a Free Trade Agreement with the United States.” 

Once the pipeline gas hits the world market where prices are much higher our costs will rise negating any implied savings. In addition, Eversource and National Grid expect electric rate payers to pay a $3 billion tariff on their electric bills to pay for the project. 

Eversouce has a 40% interest in the project and National Grid has a 20% interest. Basically they want to sell their gas to themselves and have us pay for it. Sweet deal for them and their shareholders. They get the profit, we assume the risk. 

According to Representative Roy, if 17% of the worst of the 20,000+ Massachusetts leaks were repaired we could save 40% of escaped gas reducing our bills and decreasing global warming. Isn’t this a better idea? 

But these companies have no motivation to fix leaks because consumers pay for the escaped gas. Yes, demand for electricity will increase, but fortunately offshore wind, solar and Quebec hydroelectricity are renewable options that will easily satisfy our future needs. 

According to the Attorney General’s independent study there’s no need for additional pipelines if we increase conservation efforts and improve demand response. Yes, we can save money and the planet without more NG. So why would we want to pay for the pipeline and more for fracked gas? This gas may be natural but so is arsenic.

James F Hill, Franklin

No Spectra gas pipeline sign on a Franklin lawn
No Spectra gas pipeline sign on a Franklin lawn

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