No Fracked Gas in Mass vs. Kinder Morgan...a grassroots fight for the ages

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It all started with an eight-word post on Facebook. Now, No Fracked Gas in Mass is the informational hub for communities across Massachusetts that are in a fight with a natural gas transporting behemoth.

With approximately 70,000 miles of pipelines, Kinder Morgan is the largest natural gas transporter and largest storage operator in North America, so what’s another couple hundred miles really? Residents in Massachusetts have said enough is enough.

Rosemary Wessel, a co-founder of No Fracked Gas in Mass, saw a leaked memo on Facebook with a map of the proposed Kinder Morgan/Tennessee Gas Pipeline Northeast Energy Direct Project and the pipeline was to pass through a neighboring town.

"I know how it is here. It’s forested, it’s watershed and there are wetlands. I thought to myself, ‘No, this can’t happen,’” Wessel said.

Wessel shared the post on her personal Facebook page and stated her desire to fight this and asked who was with her. The deluge of support encouraged Wessel to create a separate Facebook page in order to handle the influx of information and supporters.

The response and amount of information was overwhelming, so Bruce and Jane Winn from Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT) offered the group website space in order to organize the movement.

Wessel teamed up with Katy Eiseman to create No Fracked Gas in Mass. The two women didn’t know each other well. The only things they knew about each other were that they both lived in Cummington, Mass. and they both at some point were morning bakers at the local food co-op. But Wessel lucked out by finding a partner with so much to offer. Not only did Eiseman come with a wealth of knowledge, but she also has a law degree and a bachelor’s in environmental studies. Eiseman's mother has worked on conservation committees for decades and has many connections. Eiseman now heads up MassPLAN.

The main argument for the construction of the pipeline is there was a shortfall of available energy during this past cold winter. However, the 700-megawatt shortfall was only in the buffer the state uses in order to make sure it doesn’t run out of electricity. Massachusetts still had electricity to sell back to New York after the winter.

"To put a permanent gash through the most heavily protected areas of the state and across the top of all the watersheds in the state for something that was a temporary dent in the buffer, just seems absolute idiocy,” Wessell said. “We can’t figure where they’re coming from in asking for more pipeline capacity and asking for it across the northern part of the state.”

In July, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed a bill addressing the sealing of gas leaks in existing infrastructure. Massachusetts’ gas-delivery infrastructure is the second oldest in the U.S. There are over 20,000 identified leaks in the approximately 5,700 miles of pipes.

Wessel said if all three classes of gas leaks are sealed up, that would take care of an estimated 400 megawatts of that 700-megawatt deficiency. She also stated if the Mass Save® efficiency programs are expanded to the working poor, who can’t afford the copay, that would account for about 711 megawatts of saved power and cover the deficiency without including new solar or wind power in the picture.

"The problem is we built that bridge and it’s time to step forward to more renewable and more efficiency,” Wessel said. “Massachusetts is already doing that. We’re number one in the country in efficiency, and I think we’re either number three or number five in solar expansion.”

The pipeline project is intended to at least be partially paid for by all New England ratepayers. New England State Committee on Electricity put together a letter calling for more pipelines and tariffs to help pay for them, and all six governors in New England endorsed it.

"Not only are we left holding the bag environmentally, but we’re left holding the bill for it as well,” Wessel said. 

No Fracked Gas in Mass has been continuously holding informational meetings around the state to inform the public on what is going on with the pipeline and helping motivate people to talk to elected officials about it.

In the beginning of May, representatives of the group intercepted Richard K. Sullivan Jr., the state’s Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, and explained their reasons why they believe the pipeline is harmful to Massachusetts. He then adapted his keynote speech on the spot to mention the possibility of not building more gas infrastructure.

The political support continues to grow.

No Fracked Gas in Mass held a rally in Boston at the end of July in which approximately 500 people attended.

While he could not join the rally, Rep. James P. McGovern (D-Mass.) drafted a statement of support in the fight against the pipeline. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has also spoken out against the pipeline and wrote an op-ed piece for the Berkshire Eagle.

As an interstate pipeline, the Kinder Morgan/Tennessee Gas Pipeline Northeast Energy Direct Project doesn’t have to go through state legislature. Kinder Morgan can apply to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity. If the company receives the certificate, it is given the power of eminent domain. It can then override state and local regulations and receive permission to go through protected lands.

The pipeline is in the early stages. Pipeline representatives are trying to survey land, so they can put together a proposal in order to apply for a certificate in September. In areas where surveyors are being denied access to land, Kinder Morgan sent out a letter to residents saying it would approach the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities and go through court hearings to get onto their land to survey.

Wessel said that some people became worried because the letter sounded threatening, but it is in their best interest to go to court, so residents can have their voices heard and explain why they don’t want the pipeline. If the DPU decides that Kinder Morgan has the right to survey the property, landowners have the right to appeal the decision and go through the process again, further delaying the pipeline project.

Delaying and making it seem like the project is more trouble than it is worth is one way of killing a pipeline proposal. Another way is to convince legislators the public does not want a pipeline.

The July rally in Boston ended with a final march to the Massachusetts State House to deliver three petitions, including the Petition to Ban New Natural Gas Pipelines and Champion Sustainable Energy, which contained over 12,000 signatures.

This process can be costly, but there is financial help for groups like No Fracked Gas in Mass, which received a $1,000 Seed grant earlier this year from the New England Grassroots Environment Fund in order to create a three-town informational mailing to the Hilltown communities of Ashfield, Plainfield, and Windsor. All three towns will be directly affected by the proposed pipeline. No Fracked Gas in Mass informed residents on how individual property owners, groups (including local land trusts) and towns can intervene in the FERC permit process and how to organize non-binding resolutions opposing the pipeline.

"NEGEF's help is crucial in helping us get the word out beyond just the people who come to our presentations,” Wessel said. “We'll be able to do bulk mailings, including, hopefully a self-mailer for people to send to the Governor who had been publicly supporting the pipeline in question. We may be able to do a public billboard along critical parts of the route where towns have not become actively engaged in the debate.”

No Fracked Gas in Mass has been so impressive in its outreach efforts that NEGEF provided an additional $10,000 Harvest grant to cover potential legal costs.

Wessel said the group will fight until Kinder Morgan gets the certificate. Some have said they would even block machinery from drilling as a last-ditch effort to stop the pipeline.

The opposition to the pipeline comes down to two major factors – environmental impact and safety. Once protected lands are ruined, they can’t come back. Wessel also said there have been over 990 significant pipeline accidents on gas transition lines since 2000. The National Transportation Safety Board publishes accident reports online for pipeline accidents dating back to 1996.

The proposed pipeline is a high-pressure pipeline in order to pack as much gas as possible and have it ready to go to market. The 30- to 36-inch pipeline can transport 3 billion cubic feet of gas per day. It will move unrefined fuel, so all the chemicals from fracking will be transported as well.

Wessel said that amount of gas is about 10 times more than needed to fill any possible market in Massachusetts or in the lateral states such as New Hampshire.

That fuels the theory that most of the liquefied natural gas will be exported.

The pipeline in Maine that connects with the Canadian Maritime has applied to switch directions so it would run from Dracut, Mass. to Canada. Two of the ports in the maritime have applied to switch from import to export. With liquefied natural gas prices consistently twice as high in Europe and sometimes five or six times more in Asia than they are in the U.S., it makes sense that gas companies would consider selling their product oversees. However, prices have fallen drastically in Europe and Asia since the winter, which might slow down many of the smaller liquefied natural gas projects. Still, gas prices could skyrocket with a cold winter or continued political instability.

"We’re housing a very large and dangerous pipeline that causes a lot of environmental damage for something that will largely go to export,” Wessel said.

To follow the latest news from No Fracked Gas in Mass, checked out its website.

Wessel’s advice to others looking to lead a worthy cause…

  • Learn all you can about the proposed threat — in our case the pipeline proposal
  • Look into why they want to do what they're planning. There are often other hands besides the corporations behind it. In our case, it seems to have started with a letter from NESCOE posing a request for more pipelines and tariffs on all New England ratepayers to pay for it. All six governors signed the letter. THAT is the main thing to voice opposition to, and knowing where it’s coming from can help create an informed opposition.
  • Work locally, like we did with the resolutions. Town resolutions and ordinances show numbers behind opposition to what's going on. It's not just a rag tag band of protestors, it's a whole town that voted to take that position.
  • Get a state-wide petition to legislators. Elected officials don't like to be seen supporting something if they know it’s unpopular with a lot of their constituents. Put some pressure on them to block what's happening.
  • Get whatever legal advice you can. Having someone with legal training as a key organizer for our group was crucial in gaining an early understanding of what would be involved in trying to stop this. We're still scrambling a bit to find practicing lawyers who can help landowners who are facing state hearings called for by the gas company to get permission to survey on their land.

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