We’re Getting FERC’d

Spoiler Alert:  this is not a call to action or an announcement related to our movement to prevent new natural gas pipelines from bringing fracked gas into Massachusetts. Most of you already realize we don’t need or want new gas pipelines, and with price tag of $6.6 billion, we certainly can’t afford them. Fracked gas pipelines mean more fossil fuels, so they are also a major setback to our collective efforts to become more reliant on renewable energy. 

No, this is an open lament, and a way to connect with others who may be feeling the same way. 

Massachusetts has lost over 50,000 acres of forests in the past decade, so it was very unwelcome news that Kinder Morgan, the Texas based pipeline company that owns Tennessee Gas, received permission from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to fell trees to make way for its gas pipeline - the “Connecticut Expansion” project. Click here for the story.

To add insult to injury, many of the trees will fall in and around Otis State Forest, which is conservation land protected by Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution.  Federal law overrules our state Constitution where interstate pipelines are concerned. 

Otis is a treasure, with pristine lakes and waterways, combined with one of the few old growth forests left in the state.   

If losing old trees, in and old forest, in a state park, explicitly protected by the state constitution, in the face of significant local opposition, for unneeded pipelines isn’t cause enough for complaint, how about the fact that the pipeline is not likely to serve Massachusetts consumers? The extra gas is destined for Connecticut.

Now I like the Nutmeg state as much as the next guy or gal, but this is a bad deal for Massachusetts. We lose trees, we take the risk that the pipeline will leak methane, or cause other forms of pollution, we pay to help build it, and we get nothing in return.

As State Representative William Pignatelli (D-Lenox) has artfully said: “We are getting FERC’d again.” 

This isn’t the first time FERC has tried to FERC us. Last year, Kinder Morgan was very close to getting approval for another project - the largest of the New England pipelines projects – “Northeast Energy Direct,” an expensive, needless pipeline, cutting through many towns along its 185-mile in- state route, to bring fracked gas to Dracut, MA.

Instead, people from all over the State and the region raised their voices and took action, holding thousands of meetings, and hundreds of rallies, marches and demonstrations, along with writing and calling their elected officials to say “no.” Those efforts changed the course of history, turning what started as “not in my back yard” issue into a “not in my New England” issue. 

In the face of unprecedented, widespread opposition, Kinder Morgan eventually put NED on hold, albeit ready to be revived at the slightest hint of an opening. Now they are pushing for this project, seeking to expand an existing pipeline, with some trees being a small price to pay.

It may be a small price to pay for the pipeline developers, but I doubt that I’m alone in feeling that trees are important. Do you remember the first tree you ever climbed?  I do, and I also remember the goldenrod tree that my grandmother planted when my mother was born, and how I stood under it on my mother’s 40th birthday. I remember the huge red oak under which I was married, and I remember the first time I ever saw a baobab tree.

So, this week I can only imagine how those who love the Otis State forest and its trees are feeling about their impending loss. Probably a combination of anger, betrayal, and sadness.

They should also be feeling exploited, because these trees don’t need to die, for the simple reason that we don’t need the extra gas. Several recent independent reports have shown that by the time any new pipelines are operational, we won’t need them as solar, wind, and good old fashioned New England efficiency will displace the need for more natural gas. [1] And even in the unlikely event that more gas is needed a few times a year, there are far better and cheaper ways to get it than building or expanding pipelines that will soon be unneeded, but for which ratepayers will be paying for decades to come.

Make no mistake.  These pipelines - and several others that are planned for New England - including the $6.6 billion Access Northeast pipeline – will be built primarily to enrich the companies that are building them. Like the infamous bridge to nowhere, these pipelines are designed to siphon money from your wallet into theirs.  

I am sure we all applaud the concerted efforts of Senators Warren and Markey, who are working hard to get FERC to reconsider this very poor decision. Read their letter to FERC here

  1. “New England’s Shrinking Need for Natural Gas ” Synapse Energy Economics, www.Synapse-Energy.com, (February 7, 2017)