Kathryn R. Eiseman: Natural gas pipeline opponents dig in for long fight against Kinder Morgan

Last modified: Thursday, September 25, 2014

CUMMINGTON — What have we learned since January, when landowners across Massachusetts started receiving knocks on their doors from Kinder Morgan’s Tennessee Gas Pipeline land agents with requests to survey land?

Affected landowners, concerned citizens, nonprofits and officials at all levels of government have networked with allies across the Northeast, piecing together a picture of just what Kinder Morgan is after when the company seeks survey permission. Kinder Morgan most immediately wants information it can use to convince federal regulators that its proposed Northeast Energy Direct project deserves a “certificate of public convenience and necessity.”

Such a certificate, if granted, would allow Kinder Morgan to take property by eminent domain from hundreds of landowners in at least four states — Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and possibly Connecticut — so that a pipeline can be built to connect Marcellus shale gas directly to the existing Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline, which runs to Nova Scotia where export projects are underway.

Kinder Morgan’s public affairs vice president, Allen Fore, recently called the notion that gas through the pipeline would be exported overseas “pure speculation.” And yet a Canadian energy company’s website says this of a natural gas project: “The natural gas supply feeding the project is to be delivered via the existing Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline. ... The target markets ... are Europe, South America and Asia.”

The website also makes clear the driving force behind the push to export is the newly available and now cheap Marcellus shale gas in Pennsylvania.

Houston-based Kinder Morgan, with approximately 80,000 miles of pipeline across North America, wants us to believe this proposed pipeline would bring lower energy prices to New England. As pointed out by U.S. Sen. Ed Markey this June, the total amount of natural gas approved by the U.S. Department of Energy for export since May 2011 already “has far exceeded the level that DOE’s own study said would increase domestic natural gas prices by more than 50 percent.”

Many of us have seen Kinder Morgan’s presentations at Select Board meetings across the state. They speak of “need” with a strong sales pitch, but their corporate need — to move as much gas through their system as possible — is at odds with local needs and sensibilities (or “convenience,” to use the term that FERC considers).

The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources is undertaking a study this fall to determine “whether or not new infrastructure is required, and if so, how to optimize for environmental, reliability, and cost considerations.”

In other words, our state government has committed to looking for better ways to meet our energy needs than clear-cutting a hundred-foot-wide swath across our Commonwealth, through hundreds of private properties and public lands, many of which are protected from development under our state constitution.

The state is providing an opportunity for public input in this “low-demand scenario” study, which will look at demand-side solutions such as energy efficiency programs, in addition to supply-side options including small- and large-scale renewable projects.

Meanwhile, with Kinder Morgan’s commencement of proceedings at FERC, a new round of corporate presentations, called “open houses,” will begin late this fall as an official part of the FERC process. This will be followed early next year by FERC “scoping hearings,” wherein the public has the opportunity to raise questions to help ensure a rigorous environmental impact analysis is undertaken.

Such an analysis should examine not just less-damaging routes, but the “need” for the pipeline by analyzing less damaging energy solutions from a greenhouse gas perspective, as the Patrick administration has promised.

An engaged and informed public can make a difference in the outcome, and we don’t have to wait for FERC’s processes to unfold in order to act. Landowners who have granted permission to survey for the pipeline can revoke that permission at any time, and many have. Kinder Morgan has been denied access to survey town-owned land in at least 12 municipalities, and, at last count, the company had survey permission from fewer than half of the landowners in its sights.

Along with dozens of advocacy groups, land trusts and other organizations, over 30 municipalities have voted to oppose the project. Many are not on the proposed route, they just see the project as the wrong direction for our energy infrastructure.

Kinder Morgan has been taken by surprise by the opposition it has met. Winchendon’s local paper reports that a company representative lamented to the town manager, “We let them get ahead of us.” In other parts of the country, opposition often hasn’t even formed until after the company gets to FERC. Here, we have had part of our Congressional delegation and a growing number of state legislators come out against the proposal, the governor has expressed “skepticism” and in July, we had a statewide pipeline resistance march and rally in Boston.

All that was just the warm-up. Some among the opposition have observed that, by seeking to cut across northern Massachusetts, Kinder Morgan has chosen “the path of most resistance.”

“Don’t Mess with Texas” is meeting the modern-day Shays’ Rebellion.

Kathryn R. Eiseman of Cummington is an attorney and is directorof the Massachusetts PipeLine Awareness Network (MassPLAN.org).


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