Q: What do we mean by “new gas pipelines or gas infrastructure projects?”
A: The fossil fuel industry has repeatedly requested state approval to force New England consumers to pay approximately $14 billion for the Northeast Direct and Access Northeast pipelines to bring hydraulically fractured (“fracked”) gas up from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania). We’ve beaten them back so far, but gas lobbyists are still trying to convince the media, business leaders and politicians that we need massive, expensive and needless projects such as;
Dozens of miles of large-diameter piping in central and western Massachusetts;
New, heavy-duty compressor stations to boost gas pressure in Ashland, Weymouth and Agawam; and
A new transfer station in Longmeadow- which would be built on recreational land in the middle of a residential neighborhood – to increase gas flow into Springfield and up the Pioneer Valley.
Q: Why does Consumers for Sensible Energy and other consumer, environmental and public health organizations oppose these projects?
A: These projects are against the best interests of New England consumers for several reasons:
If the industry succeeds, consumers will assume most of the costs of these projects as profits flow to the companies building the pipelines.
If the industry succeeds, consumers will assume all the risk as any new gas infrastructure is likely to end up as an obsolete and unused, “stranded asset.” Because of the state’s nation-leading efforts on energy efficiency and adoption of renewable energy, gas use is expected to sharply decline within the decade.
If the industry succeeds, the environment will suffer. The industry is on a national campaign to convince Americans it still provides a cleaner fossil fuel “bridge” away from coal and oil. But newer studies show that methane from natural gas, which traps heat far more efficiently than carbon dioxide, will block Massachusetts from legally mandated greenhouse gas reduction goals. A study by the Massachusetts Attorney General found that new pipelines fail “to offer outcomes consistent with the climate change programs and goals of the New England states.”
After the catastrophe in the Merrimack Valley, as well as numerous and frequent gas explosions and dangerous leaks across the country, the risks and dangers of fracked gas have never been more clear. A federal report found that 12,000 natural gas and hazardous liquid materials incidents in the last two decades have killed more than 300 people, injured more than 1,300 and caused more than $8 billion in damage.
Climate change is already harming our economy and infrastructure through more intense natural disasters and our health through more mosquito-borne and tick-borne diseases. Thus, Massachusetts should not invest in any expansion or extension of fossil fuel infrastructure. It should instead invest in a clean energy future that will improve health, safety, quality of life, and boost our economy as jobs in the wind and solar industry are among the fastest growing in America.
Q: New England has some of the nation’s highest electricity prices. Won’t these additional natural gas pipelines reduce costs?
A: No. Prices did not spike in the winter of 2018-2019 because the combined supply from all sources was adequate to meet even peak demand. And long-term demand is already starting to decline. New pipelines will be “stranded assets” by the time they are built – and of no value to the consumers who will be forced to pay for them. There are more efficient and more environmentally sensible ways to invest in our energy delivery system.
Building new pipelines to reduce prices during occasional short-term cold snaps is like building a new addition on your house to accommodate your in-laws who come to stay once a year, when you already have a spare room that you use for storage. It costs a fortune and creates safety hazards, without meeting any necessity that can’t be met by clearing out a few boxes.
Also, while the unit cost of fuel can be relatively high in New England, New Englanders pay far less for fuel in terms of amount spent per household then many other states because of nation leading energy efficiency efforts.
Q: Who will pay for any cost overruns on new pipelines, like we saw with the Big Dig?
A: Electricity consumers in New England.
Q: Are additional natural gas pipelines necessary to ensure the reliability of our electricity grid?
A: Not according to the experts. An independent study commissioned by the Massachusetts Chief Consumer Advocate and Attorney General concluded “that power system reliability will be maintained with or without electric ratepayer investment in new natural gas pipeline capacity.”
The non-profit Regional Transmission Organization, responsible for overseeing the New England electricity market, has expressed confidence that the changes it has promoted – which encourage the resolution of shortages through supply and demand – will provide the necessary financial incentives for reliable operations at all times of the year without investment in new natural gas pipeline capacity.
Q: What if the region ends up not needing the additional gas?
A: It will likely go overseas, profiting gas and pipeline companies as consumers foot the costs for pipeline construction and maintenance.
In February, 2016 the U.S. Department of Energy approved plans to export gas from New England to Canada and overseas. Pipeline backers have not denied that the gas would be exported: “[A]s an open access pipeline, we provide access and capacity and it’s up to the customers and shippers where they want to move gas from point A to point B,” a spokesperson for one of these companies was quoted as saying. With gas prices dramatically higher in Europe than in the United States, it’s clear where excess gas will go.
Q: I don’t live near any proposed new NGI project, so why should I care?
A: If you use electricity supplied by Eversource or National Grid, or natural gas supplied by Eversource, National Grid, Columbia Gas, Berkshire Gas or your local municipal utility, your rates will go up no matter where you live.
Q: What should the state be doing to ensure affordable energy in the future?
A: Continue to invest in clean energy and energy efficiency as offshore wind and solar are coming down in price far faster than anyone predicted. New pipelines would instead lock us into a fossil fuel future which neither consumers nor the environment can afford.
According to the Attorney General’s study, investing in a more responsive grid and implementing better energy efficiency programs entails less risk to consumers, will lower costs and allow the state to stay on course to meet its renewable goals.
Q: Is this gas produced by hydraulic fracturing (fracking)? Is that a problem?
A: Yes and yes. Numerous studies have demonstrated environmental and health problems related to fracking beyond methane, including earthquakes and toxic pollution.
Q: Are gas pipelines safe?
A: No. In September 2018, over-pressurized gas lines exploded in Massachusetts’ Merrimack Valley. Homes and businesses were burned, roads were severely damaged, and an 18-year-old Lawrence teenager lost his life. The industry’s own estimates state that the damages and repair costs will exceed $1.6 billion dollars. Since then, there have been numerous gas leaks and explosions across North America, including a massive fire in Missouri and a fatal explosion in North Carolina. Besides the more than 300 deaths in the United States, a recent gas explosion in Mexico claimed 135 lives.
Leaks in the system can also poison trees and sicken pets and vulnerable people, including children, the elderly and those with respiratory problems. In Massachusetts alone, the utilities reported 16,495 unrepaired leaks as of December 2018. And that number is certain to be low, as independent investigators typically find 1.5 to 3 times as many leaks as the utilities report. In spite of this crisis, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities has indicated that the industry has failed to make real progress on leak repairs.
Visit www.heetma.org to view a map of the known gas leaks in your town.
Q: What can I do to help fight the pipelines?
A: Consumers for Sensible Energy is part of a broad and deep coalition that opposes additional natural gas infrastructure. This coalition includes consumer and environmental advocates in Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire as well as many state and local elected officials throughout New England. We are asking all those concerned with their state’s energy and climate future to contact their elected representatives in state government to support efforts to embrace responsible energy, stopping this rush to commit to long-term construction and spending for gas that we do not need. Click here to take action.