Fear of Explosions, Leaks Fuels Struggle Against Gas Pipelines

By Steve Smith, Hartford Courant

The opposition to the expansion of the Algonquin Natural Gas Pipeline, managed by Spectra Energy, Inc., is growing, as the proposed upgrades to the pipeline become more imminent.

Those opposed to the pipeline cite the fact that pipelines leak and sometimes even explode.

On Jan. 26, a gas pipeline in Brooke County, West Virginia exploded, sending a ball of flames hundreds of feet into the air. No one was hurt in the incident, which remains under investigation. Three other incidents occurred on U.S. pipelines in January, including another explosions in Mississippi, a leak in Montana that spilled 50,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River, and 3 million gallons of saltwater drilling waste that spilled from a North Dakota pipeline.

But most people seem to believe that the pipelines are safe and will result in cheaper energy, due to campaigns by the energy companies touting it as the country’s means to get away from foreign energy dependence. Among those who say these ideas simply aren’t so is Martha Klein, communications director for The Sierra Club of Connecticut – a branch of the nationwide environmental organization.

“Why would I not want it near my home?” Klein said. “I don’t want it to explode. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to have a fireball 50 feet in the air, very close to my house. I don’t want the carcinogenic, radioactive products that are leftover in trace amounts in the gas from the fracking process leaking into my air or my soil.”

The pipeline, which carries methane gas, extracted through fracking operations in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, crosses the Connecticut River into Glastonbury, then runs through the towns of Hebron, Andover, Coventry, Mansfield, Chaplin, Ashford, Eastford, Pomfret, Putnam and Thomaston. A spur, or loop, of the pipeline also heads southeast from Coventry and travels through Columbia, Lebanon, Franklin, Bozrah, Norwich, and onward to New London and North Stonington.

Another pipeline, the Tennessee Pipeline, managed by Kinder Morgan (which has ties to the former Enron company), runs essentially north-south along the west side of the Connecticut river, including towns of Granby and East Granby, and close to Windsor and Windsor Locks.

Besides environmental factors, the dangers to residents living near a pipeline include economic factors, Klein said, adding that residents from towns including Enfield, East Granby and Windsor have contacted her recently with concerns about pipelines. Some calls she has received include claims that employees of Kinder Morgan have visited private properties to take soil measurements without permission, and skulk away without answering questions or providing any information.

While many believe the pipelines, and expansions thereof, will result in cheaper energy costs, Klein explains that it simply isn’t true.

“Economically, we are all paying for this,” she said. “As everyone knows, our electrical bills have not been going down, they have been going up. All of the companies have stated that they intend for the cost of this construction to be on the consumer. There is no evidence anywhere that these construction projects are going to bring down our electric bills. In fact, there is a great deal of evidence that they will go up.”

On Jan. 23, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released its environmental impact statement, which essentially called the impacts minimal, giving approval to the project.

“There are so many things that they chose to ignore,” Klein said, citing that one point she is most concerned about is that methane is an extremely powerful global greenhouse gas, more capable of trapping heat in the Earth’s atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

“They ignored that completely, quite simply, because they don’t believe it’s in their mandate,” Klein said. “Methane is [also] an air pollutant. That is within their purview, and they are just ignoring it, like it doesn’t exist. There’s this pretense that we don’t know the science. It’s carte blanche for climate catastrophe.”

A meeting on Feb. 11. (6 p.m. at Farmington High School) will include a presentation by representatives from Kinder Morgan.

“These open house meetings are when the pipeline people really just wants to schmooze with people,” Klein said. “People can talk to them, but there isn’t an opportunity to give formal comment.”

Another meeting, and educational form run by the Sierra Club, will take place Feb. 18 (originally scheduled for Jan. 28, but postponed due to the snowstorm) at the Stafford Public Library, in conjunction with the Stafford Citizens Coalition.

“They are a local group that is concerned about the pipeline, and trying to engage local politicians,” Klein said.

Local actions, Klein said, are what will keep the pipelines from growing, as well as steering the government and corporations toward more renewable and sustainable energy.

“The politicians have to follow the people,” she said. “The more people hear about it, the more they are against it.”

In Massachusetts, the town of Deerfield’s Board of Health passed a decision to ban a pipeline of Kinder Morgan’s to pass through any part of that town. The decision is being challenged by the gas company, citing that any town’s decision would be nullified by the federal Natural Gas Act, which grand the FERC the authority to regulate pipelines. Klein said that legal battle may set precedent for how local municipalities can block pipeline projects. The town of Wilmington, also in Massachusetts, has enacted similar ordinances, based on the pipeline’s potential contamination of the water supply there.

“These kinds of bans and ordinances are similar to the kinds of bans in New York,” Klein said. “Those have proven to be durable in court, so there’s precedent.”

Could earthquakes, like those recently experienced in the Plainfield area (about 10 miles south of the Algonquin pipeline), have any effect on it?

Klein said she has asked scientists the same question, and (as with the cause itself of the eastern Connecticut quakes) there isn’t a clear answer.

“That is the problem,” she said. “Once the high-pressure, large-diameter pipelines are built, we absolutely can’t say that an earthquake or tremor 10 miles north or south of there wouldn’t have any kind of an effect.”

Klein said the Sierra Club will continue to fight against the pipelines and expansions, and will continue its educational forums. A forum will also be held at a private residence in Granby on Feb. 16. There will also be a meeting in late February with several other activist groups from Connecticut and surrounding states, at which strategies going forward will be discussed.

For more information, visit http://www.connecticut.sierraclub.org.

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