Last year, Kinder Morgan (KM), a corporation with a net worth of $11.5 billion that constructs natural gas and oil pipelines across the country, proposed building a 188-mile long natural gas pipeline from Wright, New York, to Dracut, Massachusetts. The pipeline, labeled the Northeast Energy Direct (NED), would cut through the border of Western Massachusetts and would be controlled by one of Kinder Morgan’s subsidiaries, Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. With the project, KM seeks to bring more natural gas to New England and “significantly lower energy costs to the region’s homes and businesses.” The gas would come from the Marcellus Shale fields in Pennsylvania and would be extracted through fracking, a process in which multiple wells are blasted with water, sand, and gelling chemicals to access the energy stored in the pores of the rock.
Originally, KM planned for the pipeline to be 36 inches in diameter and to deliver 2.2 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day, but the company has reduced that estimate to a 30-inch pipe transporting 1.3 billion cubic feet daily. Additionally, Berkshire Gas, a natural gas company that delivers gas to Deerfield Academy and throughout Western Massachusetts, called a moratorium on new natural gas customers until 2018, when the NED pipeline is scheduled to be in the ground. Berkshire Gas has signed up to purchase 1.6 percent of what the NED will carry. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), a government agency, has the final say on whether the NED will be built or not, and KM must prove that it will have enough natural gas customers before the pipeline, estimated to cost between $3 billion and $6 billion, can be built. FERC, which receives tax money from the companies it regulates, will review comments from other government agencies and the public before deciding on the NED.
KM and other organizations have advanced a variety of arguments in support of the pipeline. They state that the NED pipeline will reduce gas prices in New England, will create thousands of jobs and generate revenue, and will reduce the region’s reliance on fossil fuels. KM’s website asserts that “New England had the largest natural gas price increase of any major trading location in the United States in 2013.” Additionally, Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, Inc. (KMEP) released a full statement regarding the pipeline, which shared that ISO New England, an independent electric system operator, reported that New Englanders paid over $7 billion more for electricity during the 2013-2015 winters than they did during the winter of 2011-2012.
National Grid, an electricity and gas company based in the United Kingdom that delivers gas to the American Northeast, received approval to raise its prices by an average of 37% for the winter of 2014-2015 due to constraints on existing regional pipelines, “which decrease natural gas availability at times of peak demand,” according to KM’s Resource Report 1 to FERC. Additionally, the Beacon Hill Institute created two models to analyze the short and long term benefits to Massachusetts. The results from the so-called IMPLAN model indicate that the NED would “eliminate 70% of the natural gas shortage in Massachusetts and thus reduce energy prices.” In terms of jobs, the plan states that “the lower energy prices would lead to the creation of 9,420 jobs by 2020” and that the project would lead to “the creation of 1,713 temporary jobs that would pay $228 million in wages.”
KM created a website dedicated to the NED pipeline, which asserts that the project would “generate an estimated $23.9 million in revenues to local and state taxing bodies in Massachusetts in the first year following construction, with gradual annual depreciation thereafter.” In terms of environmentalism, KMEP, Inc. stated that the NED is designed to supply “abundant and clean natural gas to help alleviate New England’s uniquely high natural gas and electricity costs” and explained that the NED is “essential to facilitating the region’s ability to continue to reduce carbon emissions by replacing existing older coal-and-oil-fired” energy sources. The KM NED website also states that natural gas “supports renewable energy growth by providing the cleanest possible power when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine,” and says that “over 80 percent of [the pipeline] will be co-located along existing utility corridors or adjacent to existing pipeline, meaning that less new land will be affected.” The website states that without the expansion of more pipelines, the region will grow to depend on “expensive foreign gas and dirty energy sources.”
Arguments against the NED have been presented by residents of towns near the proposed pipeline route. These residents raise concerns about their own health and safety, the difficulty of having to compete with foreign markets for gas, and the pipeline’s negative environmental impact. Because much of Western Massachusetts is made up of areas that have ten or fewer houses per mile, the NED pipeline would be ranked as “Class 1,” meaning it will have thinner-walled pipe and the least effective corrosion detection measures, which could lead to leaks and explosions. Therefore, residents have questioned why, as one Massachusetts resident wrote in the “My Turn” column of The Greenfield Recorder, their “health and safety is less valuable than those of folks who live closer to each other.”
In the case of a catastrophe, such as a leak or a burst in the pipe, counties —such as Franklin County, one of the poorest counties in the nation—would be responsible for dealing with the emergency, with KM being liable for only $2 million in damages. If the pipe were to burst, everything in the surrounding area might be destroyed, and there would be no way to address the disaster until the pipe emptied out back to its closest emergency shut-off valve. Next, eminent domain gives the government the right to take private property for public use, which means that KM, with government backing, can invoke eminent domain to use homeowners’ land for the pipeline, as long as those homeowners are compensated. Therefore, homeowners may encounter decreased property values and issues with mortgages and insurance. Furthermore, due to the pipeline’s length, compressor stations would be placed throughout the route to keep the gas moving. If there were to be an explosion, opponents argue, the heat from the machines would be strong enough to ignite nearby homes. In terms of DA, the end of Main Street, on the way to the Small Loop, would be considered an “incineration zone.” In addition, the Deerfield Board of Health released a document to KM ordering the company to stop all activity involving the pipeline in Deerfield after finding that “the proposed pipeline presents an unreasonable risk to the health and lives of the residents of Deerfield.”
A further argument asserts that New England does not have an energy deficiency extreme enough to require a pipeline, prompting suspicions that the gas that would travel through the NED will be exported internationally. David Keith, an independent researcher and current member of the Deerfield Energy Resources Committee, explained this concern. Though some news sources suggest that New England has an energy shortage, he explained that New England actually gets a third more gas than is used. Electric companies in Massachusetts buy gas at “interruptible” rates, which means they are buying gas released from what local distributor companies have paid to reserve as uninterruptible supply. During peak days, when the temperature is very cold, homeowners crank up their heat, using all of the gas from local distributor companies, so those companies have no leftover gas for the electric companies to use. Keith explained that the “shortage happens for no more than 42 days” in the entire year, for one to two hours on those 42 days. “So, you’re literally talking about 84 hours when the electric companies cannot get enough gas from the leftovers, the cheap stuff,” Keith said. In order to meet these peak shortages, New England would need no more than an additional 22 billion cubic feet of gas by the winter of 2019-2020, according to ICF International; this would be the equivalent of the NED pipeline running for just 17 days. The NED pipeline’s plan to deliver 1.3 billion cubic feet per day to New England would mean in a year, New England would be receiving 474.5 billion cubic feet. Additionally, Spectra Energy, a natural gas and pipeline company based in Massachusetts, has already begun expanding its pipeline called the Alogonquin Incremental Market. This line will be finished before KM begins to build, and the project would bring in at least five times the amount needed to prevent any gas deficiencies. Also, a company owning a pipeline that runs from Canada to Dracut, MA is filing for permission to reverse the direction of the pipeline, leading many to believe that the NED gas will be shipped to Canada.
In an opinion article for The Greenfield Recorder, Keith wrote, “we are being manipulated,” and added that gas sells internationally for much more than current domestic rates: “If a company has the choice to export gas for $9 to $15 per thousand cubic feet, how long will it continue to sell to us for $3?”
Finally, concerns have been raised about the implications that the NED pipeline could have on the pristine environment of New England, much of which is untouched by man made infrastructure, light pollution, and heavy industrialization. Also, the fracking extraction process KM’s suppliers employ can lead to raw methane leaks, which release a greenhouse gas 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, further compromising the ozone layer and environment. Others worry about altered air quality due to gas ventilation/compression stations, damage to wetlands, and contamination of water if the pipe bursts, among other things. Finally, some are concerned about the length of greenfield pipeline that will be involved in the project: greenfield pipe is pipe that would cross land that is currently free of any natural gas infrastructure.
The NED pipeline would be located a quarter mile from Deerfield Academy, Bement, and Eaglebrook. As of right now, Bement has taken a public stance against the NED pipeline, and Head Of School Frank Henry has written a letter to State Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, which has been forwarded to federal regulators, opposing the pipeline on behalf of Bement. Towards the end of last spring, Mr. Finan, Associate Head of School for Operations and Chief Financial Officer, and Head of School Dr. Curtis began discussing the potential pipeline and since Labor Day have begun to have “more in depth conversations” and do further research. Mr. Finan explained that he, Dr. Curtis, and The Board of Trustees need to discuss the position Deerfield will take on the potential pipeline.
Finan explained that he is exploring three separate questions in regards to the pipeline: 1. Do we really need it? 2. If we do need the additional pipeline, what is the best route for it? 3. What are the safety precautions in place? “There are a lot of very legitimate concerns,” Finan explained, but added that he needs to find answers to the proposed questions in order to make an informed presentation to The Board of Trustees, who he described as “responsible for the long term health of the institution.” Finan cited that the reported energy shortages in New England is “a very strong argument for needing [the pipeline]” but that at the same time, Deerfield Academy “takes very seriously the safety and environmental challenges that this pipeline creates.”
Explaining why the Academy has not taken any action or written a letter like Henry’s, Finan stated that in order to compose a frank note, he would have to know more about the pipeline. He stated, “Part of the problem is that we don’t know what taking a stance means at this point.”