Berkshire Gas spokesman apologizes for referring to pipeline opponents as engaging in ‘ecoterrorism’

Last modified: Saturday, May 02, 2015


The term used by Berkshire Gas Co. spokesman Christopher Farrell last week to describe Tennessee Gas Pipeline project opponents has caused some confusion, hard feelings and, in some cases, amusement, among those who say they have never thought of themselves that way.

Farrell, the company’s manager of communications and government relations, on Thursday issued an apology for describing, at a Franklin County Chamber of Commerce meeting, local pipeline opponents as engaging in “ecoterrorism.”

“I’m a local business owner, and we’ve been in business for 100 years,” Ben Clark of Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Deerfield told WRSI radio host Monte Belmonte on Wednesday, calling the comments by Farrell “a step in the negative rhetoric that’s coming from BG. Just the fact of accusing us of not caring about anybody? We’re a local farm that grows food. We don’t use the gas, and we didn’t want it destroying our orchard. That must mean that we’re anti-local and anti-everything else? That’s crazy.”

Farrell, who as a chamber member had been allowed five minutes to talk at the beginning of the chamber’s monthly breakfast meeting April 24, said the pipeline is “a critical need” for the region’s economic health and development, and then accused “the opposition” of “a little ecoterrorism” by threatening pipeline personnel enough so they now need bodyguards.

Farrell said Berkshire Gas needs the interstate pipeline through Franklin County to expand its supply of natural gas in the Pioneer Valley. He said opposition “knows the only card they have in their hands is the card of delay. We all know as businesspeople that delay costs money. The longer they delay, the more expensive it is to each of you and all of us, in electric rates and the ability to expand.”

Farrell added, “Their agenda is singular — they care only about imposing their personal philosophy and agenda on all of you. They don’t care about you, about your family, about your businesses, and they sure don’t care about the local economy.”

Clark said Farrell’s comments amounted to “hyperbole and fear-mongering,” and as a director of the chamber, the fruit farmer emphasized that Farrell’s presentation was not endorsed by the business group. In fact, Clark — who did not attend the chamber event at Chandler’s Restaurant in Deerfield — said he has asked for his fourth-generation family farm to be a sponsor at the chamber’s upcoming breakfast “to say this is what an ecoterrorist looks like.”

Belmonte, a Montague resident who also opposes the 353-mile pipeline that would cross Plainfield in Hampshire County and eight Franklin County towns on its route from Pennsylvania shale gas fields to Dracut, told Clark during the interview, “Most people oppose the pipeline because they do care about the community; that’s why they’re opposed to it. I oppose the pipeline because I care about people. My agenda is caring about people.”

Farrell told The Recorder Thursday, “I think I do owe them an apology, and I apologize for my inappropriate and inaccurate characterizations of well-intentioned people on all sides of the pipeline debate.”

Apology to Rosenberg

The “ecoterrorism” remark was one of two missteps by Farrell April 24. On Monday, Berkshire Gas President and Chief Operating Officer Karen Zink formally apologized to state Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg, D-Amherst, for comments Farrell made about a statement the senator supposedly made a year ago regarding the need for the pipeline — comments that Rosenberg told The Recorder he cannot imagine having made given his neutrality on the issue.

Zink said Farrell had “misrepresented” Rosenberg’s position, and that Farrell’s remarks “were neither sanctioned, nor approved, by the company.”

Farrell later said he had no intention of criticizing Rosenberg, calling him, “among the most reasonable legislators, in not taking a hard-and-fast position against the pipeline at this point.”

As for “ecoterrorism,” Richard N. Wheatley, a spokesman for Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. parent Kinder Morgan, declined comment, explaining that company policy was not to talk about security.

Asked if he knew of any specific incidents of ecoterrorism, he responded, “ I do not.”

Although some property owners have reportedly verbally challenged crews who have attempted to survey their property without permission, several pipeline opponents found the idea of bodyguards being necessary almost comical.

“The protesters are not a threat,” said Clark. “They’re not ‘young radicals.’ … They may be activists, but they’re non-violent. … If this is the kind of thing he’s saying as a Berkshire Gas rep, you’ve got to wonder about everything he’s saying.”

John Waite, executive director of Franklin County Community Development Corp., a pipeline opponent who attended the Chamber breakfast, said of Farrell, “He didn’t know his Franklin County business audience very well ... We have a lot of small businesses who care about the quality of life, and the economics is part of that, but it’s not the only thing. The fact is, many businesses are looking at alternative energy sources because they realize fossil fuels are not going to be good for Franklin County.”

He added, “We have a lot of businesses that have ‘Stop the Pipeline’ signs, but I don’t think anyone has done anything violent or against the law or anywhere near that.”

Pat Larson of Orange, an organizer of North Quabbin Pipeline Action, said, “If anything, I think for the most part, people have really worked to be polite.”

Rosemary Wessel of No Fracked Gas in Mass. agreed, saying the only incident she could recall that even came close was at a meeting co-sponsored by the Chamber — together with Berkshire Gas and Associated Industries of Massachusetts — last fall, where protesters tried to discourage people from entering and then joined the gathering, uninvited and unruly.

“We’ve been going out of our way to participate in the process, not to circumvent it through any illegal means,” she said.

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