By Jack Minch
ASHBY -- Opponents of a proposed natural gas pipe line that will pass through the Merrimack Valley predict an uphill fight for approval.
"I have never seen a fracked pipeline go through such a blue state; it will definitely be harder than rural Pennsylvania," environmental attorney Jay Duffy said. "This is unprecedented and I think they're in for it."
Kinder Morgan Energy Partners is proposing extension of a 30-inch gas pipe that would need a 50-foot easement for workers to access, Duffy said.
The proposed gas line originates in Pennsylvania and would go through Wright, N.Y., into Berkshire County and eventually through Winchendon, Ashburnham, Ashby, Townsend and continue on to Dracut, said Bruce Winn of Berkshire Environmental Action Team.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves drilling until reaching shale then using water, sand and chemicals to blast through the shale horizontally to release gas and oil.
The environmental concerns include the massive usage of water and the release of potentially carcinogenic chemicals that could pose a threat to groundwater.
The Federal Energy Regulation Committee must rule the pipeline would serve the public interest before giving a permit to extend it, Duffy said.
"The gas that comes in from this line is almost all from fracking lines to the west," he said.
Saturday's meeting was arranged by Ashby's Conservation Commission, and attracted about 125 people, including members of Laborers Union, as well as residents from Townsend, Ashburnham and Winchendon.
Winn challenged public assertions that natural gas is cleaner and cheaper than other forms of fuel.
"I would make the argument natural gas isn't clean, isn't cheap and we don't need the extra capacity," he said.
The Tennessee Gas Pipeline already carries 43 percent of the U.S. northern market, and if it passes 60 percent customers can expect to start paying the high prices that are common in Europe and Asia, Winn said.
He conceded that natural gas is cleaner than home heating oil but said it can create as much CO2 as other forms of fuel such as coal and oil when used in electrical plants.
"When somebody says natural gas is cheap, you have to ask compared to what," Winn said.
He also questioned whether the ultimate goal of the pipeline is to export natural gas.
The company has said the pipeline will create 3,000 jobs but even that isn't as good as advertised, Winn said.
"They also say in the same sentence it will be during peak construction," he said.
Scott Gustafson, the organizing director for the Laborers' New England Region, defended the jobs even if they are temporary.
Residents need to be careful when signing agreements for surveys or easements because the contracts Kinder Morgan presents are designed to protect the company, said Duffy, whose father owns a farm in town.
The contracts may not mention that the company will also need to build pressure stations to keep the gas flowing.
"That's something that you need to consider," Duffy said. "If you go look at the Tennessee Gas Pipeline along the southern part of the state, there are pressure stations from time to time."
Representatives from Kinder Morgan are scheduled to appear at a Board of Selectmen April 9.
Comments or questions for the meeting can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, said Selectman Mike McCallum.