Allen Fore, vice president with Kinder Morgan, presented aspects of the gas pipeline plan at a public forum in Dalton.
DALTON, Mass. — Michael Filpi is one of 560 Berkshire County construction laborers who worry if or when they will get another job.
So when a $4 billion project shows up providing opportunity for his fellow union members to work locally for more than two years, he's going to support it.
On Tuesday, Filpi, business manager for the Laborers International Union of North America AFL Local 473, and a few fellow workers sat in the audience of Nessacus School's auditorium hearing the debate over the proposed Tennessee Pipeline Expansion.
"We don't know where stuff is going. All we know is the pipeline is being constructed from New York to Dracut, Mass. That is all we know and that is all we want to know," Filpi said. "The four local unions that represent that area are looking forward to putting people to work on these jobs."
The Kinder Morgan's Northeast Energy Direct Project
seeks to bring a 36-inch pipeline from the Marcellus Shale Region in western New York across Massachusetts, and through the Berkshires.
Allen Fore, Kinder Morgan's vice president of public affairs, says the need for the line is throughout New England and that there are long-term agreements in place with many customers — including that of Berkshire Gas.
"We don't propose pipelines unless we have commitments. We don't build things and hope people use it," Fore said. "These customers are companies who are currently servicing customers in Massachusetts."
The line is proposed to cut through Dalton, Hinsdale, Lenox, Peru, Pittsfield, Richmond, Washington and Windsor before heading off to Franklin County and eastward until it connects with the Maritime line.
"Right now, it is estimated to be a $4 billion project, which estimates out to be 3,000 construction jobs. Kinder Morgan has already made the commitment with a memorandum of understanding to hire local people," Filpi said.
"We have 560 members, men and women in Berkshire County who are looking for good-paying jobs to further benefit their lives. It has been written by the other side that these are temporary jobs. Well, every construction job is temporary. Three of gentlemen here tonight worked on this school and at the end of the day, the school was finished and they went to their next job. There is no such thing as a 30-year construction job," he said.
However, Jane Winn of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team said the plan will cause irreparable harm to the environment, which leads to an even bigger impact on the economy. The No. 1 reason tourists visit or people move here is because of the scenic beauty, she said, and the fastest growing job sector in Massachusetts is in green energy.
Winn, along with others, question the need for Kinder Morgan to come through the Berkshires, leaving what they say is an environmental hazard in its wake. She said the company expanded the Connecticut line in Sandisfield and did not take steps to mitigate environmental hazard and attempted to work around filing certain environmental reports.
Winn challenged the need for natural gas, saying that while Kinder Morgan may not have contracts with companies looking to export, the Maritime line goes to Nova Scotia where an array of companies have either gotten or are seeking approval to send natural gas overseas.
Kinder Morgan's capacity is more than the region needs in an attempt to keep ahead of growing demands over time. However, Winn says there are already enough projects in the queue to make up more than enough of the energy shortfall.
Nancy Sheppard lives near the Cleveland Reservoir and is supplied water through a well. The proposed line appears to go near her land and she wants to know if it will have any impact on her water system.
Rosemary Wessel, founder of No Fracked Gas in Mass, warns of a significant drop in property values.
"Property values drop," she said, and with declines come limits on where trees can be planted or pools to be installed.
Homeowners along the proposed route will be paid a one-time fee for the interference and easement. If the company is approved to go ahead with the project, the federal government will allow it to use eminent domain on the properties where an agreement can't be reached.
"If you said no and the project was approved, and only after the project was approved, that would be our only option," said Jim Hartman, principal land specialist.
The pipeline also needs compressor stations throughout. Wessel said those are loud, blow off the gas into the atmosphere and are well lit.
"They tend to have a loud noise 24/7. They also tend to have bright lights," she said. "If you have a compression station nearby, you are losing your night sky."
Fore says the company needs to reduce impacts on property and the environment because of regulations. The company needs approved from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission with input from dozens of state, local and other federal agencies.
Further, the impacts are mostly during the construction phase, he said, showing photos of the environment post-installation in which only a marker indicates where the line is underground.
"We understand that projects have impacts," Fore said, but the company works hard to mitigate those impacts.
Rosemary Wessel helped start No Fracked Gas in Mass to oppose the pipeline.
As for the compressor stations, Mark Hamarich, project manager for Kinder Morgan, said, "those are isolated areas that are fenced in and identified."
The company isn't trying to do anything new. It has been transporting the gas throughout the county for more than 60 years. But where the gas comes from is making a difference.
The Berkshires got gas "historically from the gulf area but most recently from the Marcellus Shale," Fore said.
He later added in response to a question that, "about 60 percent of the supply in our existing supply is from the Marcellus Shale... That's where it is always going to be coming from in New England."
The company doesn't do the production; it owns the pipelines that transports gas drilled by others to local distributors. However, the gas being captured in the Marcellus Shale is produced through hydrofracturing, which environmentalist says is an unclean process.
Wessel said fracked gas carries at least 60 known carcinogens and massive amounts leak out from the compression stations, from the cleaning of the pipes known as pigging, and from the production. There are some 600 different chemical — though the company disputes that total — found in the gas.
Wessel highlights a couple of them including benzene, which "leads to anemia, the loss of blood platelets and is carcinogenic so it is known to cause cancer. These all have an affect even in small quantities. Exposure over time, small quantities have caused distribution and carcinogenic chemicals take affect."
Hamarich says only a small amount of the gas is blown off during the pigging process.
"It is basically a closed operation," he said.
Company officials say their large transmission lines don't leak — it is the smaller lines that deliver to homes that sometimes have issues. Yet, opponents say there is leakage into the air and there is the potential for a large-scale explosion.
"There has been over 990 significant incidents on gas transmission lines since 2000," she said. "They are not always ruptures. They are not always large fires. But they are significant and cause property damage."
The incidents have led to 34 deaths, 137 injuries and more than $1.5 billion in property damage, Wessel said. Kinder Morgan said the majority of incidents are the result of outside influences — such as somebody not following proper digging procedure. Fire, police and emergency medical services in Berkshire County met with the company a year ago to discuss the procedures.
Kinder Morgan points to its track record in response to concerns about the pipeline.
"This is not anything new to the region," Fore said. "It is the same thing we've been doing safety and effectively for 60 years."
Hartman said there are offices in Nassau, N.Y., and in Amherst with employees stationed who will respond to any type of incident immediately.
Tuesday's meeting was one of many the company has held across the state but only the first in the Berkshires. The company has been criticized repeatedly from high-ranking state officials such as U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey. Particularly, there has been a growing frustration with the company's transparency in that most communities don't have detailed maps of the route.
Fore says that's because there aren't any detailed maps to be made available. The company is putting together its application now but has not finalized where the route will go. In September, Kinder Morgan expects to file its application with FERC, which will kick off a yearlong period of public input and federal scrutiny of the plan.
"The process hasn't started yet. Once the formal process starts, we will file our specific route," Fore said.
Fore estimates that construction wouldn't begin until 2016 but the end goal is be completed in time for the winter heating season of 2018.