The Committee on Public Health & Safety voted unanimously on Monday to recommend that the full council endorse a resolution against allowing the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan, to develop the pipeline across sections of Pittsfield's Ward 4. If approved by the council, the resolution will make Pittsfield the 26th municipality in Western Massachusetts to have formally opposed the Northeast Energy Direct Project
The decision followed presentations by Berkshire Environmental Action Team and No Fracked Gas in Massachusetts and a one-hour public hearing during which a majority or residents spoke fervently against the project.
While BEAT Executive Director Bruce Winn said that most of the pushback coming in from around Massachusetts has had to do with the property disruption the project will entail, commenters at Monday's meetings focused more on concerns about health and safety, cost to the public, and a perceived lack of local benefit from a project most believe will primarily pump a product bound for European and Asian markets.
Winn's presentation focused on the analysis of whether another gas pipeline was actually needed to meet the region's energy costs.
"Before we came to the public with this, we were very concerned, we didn't want to oppose a pipeline that was going to have benefit for the county or for the state in general," said Winn, who contended that after careful research, BEAT decided the proposed pipeline was not the best solution to the Northeast's energy needs, economically or environmentally.
Winn said the proposed Northeast Energy Direct is being designed for volumes vastly in excess of the Northeast energy shortfall identified by ISO-New England
and the New England States Committee on Electricity (NESCOE), a need he said can be handled by existing regional gas facilities as well as increasing yields seen from renewable energy in the commonwealth.
"More than half of the new energy we put on the grid is solar and wind," said Winn, pointing to the recent addition of 200 megawatts from solar last year, and suggesting that the estimated gains in solar over the next three years exceed the 700 MW "shortfall" indicated by ISO-New England.
Winn also cited a study for NESCOE by Black & Veatch
that found "no longterm infrastructure solutions are needed" under the lowest demand scenario, and additionally pointed to internal documents
obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request indicating NESCOE's acknowledgement that a desire to send favorable "market signals" rather than sheer energy need informed the decision to support the pipeline expansion.
While he acknowledged Kinder Morgan's contention that the project will mean about 3,000 jobs for a year or more, Winn argued that the same amount of dollars invested in improving energy efficiency would create as many as 24,000 jobs.
In her presentation, Rosemary Wessel of No Fracked Gas in Mass honed in more specifically on the environmental and public health risks she claims are associated with the transport of fracked natural gas.
Wessel says this includes 60 known toxins and carcinogens "out of the several hundred chemicals" associated with gas transmission that can leach from piping and compressor stations, compounds she said have been increasingly linked with health problems.
Even more acute are the immediate dangers in the event of an accident or explosion, of which Wessel says there have been 990 "significant incidents" on gas transmission lines since 2000, resulting in 34 fatalities and more than $1.5 billion in property damage. (Data on pipeline transmission incidents can be found here
"That's more than one a week, nationwide," Wessel told the committee. "So for them to say they're rare, that depends on how you define rare."
"I'm definitely in favor of the pipeline as it will affect the energy costs in the region," said Terry Kinnas, who said the presenters had not convincingly argued their case in the cost-benefit analysis and dismissed solar and wind energy use in the Northeast as "inefficient."
Kinnas pointed to the region's high energy costs as a major factor in a lack of job creation.
A half dozen other commenters from Pittsfield and surrounding towns spoke in contrast to this support, most maintaining that the project would increase energy costs locally rather than reducing them.
"I think it's pretty clear that our electric bill will go right straight up, because we're going to pay for the gas line with a tariff," said Michael Costerisan
The committee also heard testimony from out of the area, from the Climate Summer Bikers, a group of students who have been traveling across the state by bicycle to lobby against the pipeline proposal. Prior to the meeting, the cyclists were hosted at a meet-and-greet potluck dinner with members and other interested community members at First Congregational Church.
"We should never have to accept things that we know are dangerous when we know that we have alternatives," said Ben Wellerstein.
Wellerstein is part of a group of six young people, along with Georgette Sordellini, Dineen O'Rourke, A. Grace Steig, Stephen O'Hanlon, Ben Linthicum who make up the West team of Climate Summer, a total of 22 youths on bikes visiting with 35 communities in Massachusetts this year on climate-related issues.
The cycling activists will be in town for a few more days before returning east, and on Wednesday will be hosting a "Public Narrative Storytelling" workshop, also at First Congregational on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Committee ChairmanKevin Morandi and the other councilors expressed disappointment that representatives of Kinder Morgan were not there to give their side of the issue. Morandi said he had received a call from a company employee prior to the meeting who said they were not aware of the meeting until late Monday afternoon, but pointed out that Kinder Morgan had been invited in advance, along with Berkshire Gas and the Berkshire delegation (state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield was in attendance).
Councilor John Krol suggested that while it was unfortunate that Kinder Morgan was not in attendance, the company would still have an opportunity to address the full council when it hears the petition, motioning that the committee advance a recommendation to issue a resolution of opposition.
In Berkshire County, Richmond, Lenox, Dalton, Windsor and Sandisfield have issued resolutions against the pipeline since May of this year, with Becket, Peru and Hinsdale expected to vote on the issue soon.