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Controversy Over Local Pipeline
Julia Dixon '16 Associate Editor
November 12, 2014

According to The Recorder, the local Greenfield newspaper, the Northeast Energy Direct (NED) project entails the construction of a 177-mile high-pressure gas pipeline that would cut through the town of Deerfield. One of the proposed routes would cross the North Meadows, just north of the Academy’s Small Loop.

The project is being developed by Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, an affiliate of Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, the third largest energy company in North America. The pipeline will travel from Wright, New York, to Dracut, Massachusetts, before meeting up with existing pipelines to create a route linking Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts. The entire project would be completed in 2018.

The pipeline is scheduled to cross protected wildlife habitats as well as agricultural areas. In total 16,000 private, town and conservation properties will be affected by the project. Many people from the town of Deerfield and nearby have voiced their opposition of the proposed route and have advocated for public safety and sustainable forms of energy.

A representative of the project explained to The Recorder that the scheduled project is “the only proposed pipeline project that can provide the transformative solution that New England needs to reduce energy costs and enhance electric reliability. [The project] provides economic service to several geographic areas in Massachusetts and New York that are not currently served by an interstate pipeline and are not economically viable for competing projects to serve.”

Other opponents to the project are against the non-sustainable natural gas which will be used for the pipeline. Natural gas is obtained from hydraulic fracturing commonly known as fracking. The process is very controversial. It involves the pumping of a mixture of water, sand and various chemicals about a mile deep into the ground in order to dislodge gas and oil trapped between rocks.

Serena Ainslie ’16 described the controversy surrounding this process: “It can be bad if the pipe that transmits the fracking fluid in and out of the ground cracks because in those cases the fracking fluid can leak into aquifers above the shale deposits and those aquifers provide sources of drinking water. The disposal of fracking fluids is also very controversial. Right now fracking companies dispose fracking fluids by injecting large closed containers with the fluid inside deep into the ground in places like Oklahoma.”

“The positives [of fracking] are that natural gas is so much better than coal, the other energy source that our nation runs on,” Ainslie continued. “Coal has negative effects on the environment and individual health. In China 1.2 million people die per year from air pollution due to coal. Fracking decreases our need to buy foreign oil from countries we don’t have great relationships with. Fracking will only continue to improve this independence.”

Deerfield alumnus Jim Cutler from Ashfield will be directly affected by the pipe’s construction. Cutler opposes the pipeline because it would violate conservation laws, negatively impact his homeowners insurance, and has the possibility of leaking.

Another Deerfield Alumnus, Tom Clark ‘67 of Clarkdale Fruit Farms, opposes the pipeline and has previously refused to allow surveyors to survey their land. “We’re going to be 100 years old next year,” Clark explained. “We’ve done a good job as stewards of the soil, and the community.” Clark believes the best way to continue this mission is by protesting this project in hopes it will be abandoned.

Ken Park ’15 also posed the question “Who is [Tennessee Gas Pipeline] TGP to say that they can build a pipeline under multi-generation farm lands?” underscoring the dissent regarding the new pipeline

Supporters of the pipeline, including the labor union, argue that the new pipeline will lower the price of gas, increase the reliability of gas and electricity and create business in New England. They claim that high-energy costs discourage companies in Massachusetts and the project could create 3,000 jobs for residents. Tom Andrews from the Labor Union represents local 596 out of Holyoke. He explained, “A [$3 billion project] does not happen in Western Mass.”

During a town hall meeting on September 10, 2014, the Deerfield Board of Health raised their concerns over the project. They questioned Kinder Morgan’s safety record after reports of safety violations on previous projects. Additionally, the board discussed the dangers a pipeline poses. Leaks can cause fires, explosions and contaminate the wells and water supplies.

It is estimated there are roughly one thousand gas leaks every year. Many of these leaks are considered hazardous, and explosions erupt if the gas comes in contact with an ignition. According to The New York Times, “There are more than 1.2 million miles of gas main pipes across the country. Last year, gas distributors nationwide reported an average of 12 leaks per 100 miles of those pipes.” Gas leaks can result from natural causes such as frost or accidents that occur when digging during construction projects, and are especially concerning for this new pipeline, which packs more gas into the pipe, meaning if a leak did occur it would result in a larger quantity of gas being released.

Deerfield Board of Health members also raised concerns about minimizing negative impact on private property and Kinder Morgan’s reaction to emergencies. This is especially concerning to many since the liability of the project is only one million dollars.

According to the board’s legal council, “local health boards have ‘unlimited power’ to stop activities or projects that are deemed a threat to public health and safety.” Additionally, private landowners can deny Kinder Morgan permission to survey their land. In this case, Kinder Morgan would have to be granted permission by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities.

On October 23, the Board voted to ban the proposed construction. Carolyn Shores Ness, the chairwoman of the Board of Health, cited the “unreasonable risk to the health and lives of the residents of Deerfield” and called on Kinder Morgan “to cease immediately all of its activities in Deerfield related to the construction to the proposed pipeline within the boundaries of the town.”

Kinder Morgan replied by telling the town to raise any issues regarding the project with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

According to Cristobal Bonifaz, representative of the town’s legal council, the board ruling gives Kinder Morgan two options: “to appeal to state courts… or to move the pipeline outside the boundaries of Deerfield.” Bonifaz says she is willing to represent the Town of Deerfield all the way up to the Supreme Court if need be. Other surrounding towns have already contacted Deerfield and hope to adopt similar approaches to protest the construction of the pipeline.