By Gintautas Dumcius and Mike Deehan
State House News Service
BOSTON -- Gov. Deval Patrick on July 30 sounded skeptical notes about a potential natural-gas pipeline that would cut through a town where he has a second home, as lawmakers and activists ramped up opposition to the project during a Boston Common rally.
Supporters of the pipeline say New England needs increased access to natural gas to meet energy needs, and the potential pipeline proposed to run from New York to Dracut, in the eastern portion of Massachusetts, would create jobs and allow New England businesses to compete with other states that have access to low-cost shale gas.
The pipeline project, which totals 418 miles in the Northeast region, would cut across the northern part of the Berkshire, Franklin, Worcester and Middlesex counties, and would include additional meter stations, compressor stations and modifications to existing facilities. The majority of the pipeline would be buried.
According to Kinder Morgan, the energy transportation company looking to build the pipeline, it would generate $25 million for local governments and act as an economic stimulus to surrounding areas during construction.
But environmentalists oppose the methods used to extract the gas from the earth and worry about the consequences of running more gas lines through the state.
"On this particular proposal, from what I know of it, I'm a little skeptical of it," Patrick told reporters.
"Because one wonders why they want to use a new right of way when they already have an existing right of way," Patrick said, adding, "I'm not one who believes we shouldn't have any new natural gas."
Patrick acknowledged that he and other governors have been promoting the need for additional natural gas capacity for the region. "All of us have talked about how as a region we work to bring electricity prices down and we do that in ways that are more energy-efficient and environmentally sensitive," he said. "And large-scale hydro is one way to do that, offshore wind is another way to do that, and as a bridge to that future, additional natural gas."
He added that is not an endorsement of a particular proposal and "certainly not" the pipeline that Kinder Morgan is seeking to build.
"But there isn't actually a proposal in front of any agency at this point," Patrick said. "It's an idea that's being floated. There's an awful lot of local opposition, homeowner opposition. And when the process starts, all those folks who have a point of view will have an opportunity to be heard."
Patrick met that afternoon with some of the activists who rallied earlier on Boston Common, but he told reporters before the meeting that he has already heard from some people opposed to the pipeline. "I mean, many of them are my neighbors," Patrick said. "You know, part of the proposal is to come right through Richmond, out in western Massachusetts, which is the town we have a lot of love for, as you know."
The week before, representatives from Kinder Morgan held an informational briefing before a standing-room-only crowd of legislators and staff at the Statehouse.
"What we're talking about is an expansion of an existing pipeline in Massachusetts," said Allen Fore, Kinder Morgan's public affairs representative at the meeting.
Fore said the pipeline is needed to respond to the demand for more energy in the region.
Fore described the yearlong public feedback process the company must go through before applying for federal permits and said the company would build "a project that can survive the scrutiny that'll come from the federal government and the state government."
The company has held numerous public presentations on the plan, with company representatives traveling to town hall meetings in dozens of towns this year.
"We are continuing outreach for the proposed Northeast Energy Direct Project, conducting surveys where we have received permission from landowners to do so and planning a National Environmental Policy Act pre-filing application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this September," Richard Wheatley, director of corporate communications at Kinder Morgan, said in a statement.
But several top lawmakers, including those from western Massachusetts, said July 30 they oppose the project.
Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, the Senate majority leader and an Amherst Democrat who will likely helm the Senate next year, said in an email to his supporters that he does not want a pipeline running through Franklin County.
"Nor do I want our residents and employers to pay exorbitant energy costs because of our failure to act," he added. "But saying 'no' to a proposal we don't want is not enough. We have to show that it is unnecessary."
Rosenberg wrote that unless future steps are taken, energy costs in the state could triple as fossil and nuclear power sources go off-line, and that experts "agree that brownouts and blackouts at peak usage times are likely across our region if those 8,300 megawatts are not replaced."
Rosenberg said he is seeking information from energy experts on how Massachusetts can become energy self-sufficient through green and renewable technologies.
Stephen Kulik, a Worthington Democrat and vice chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said the pipeline would pass through six communities in his district, and go through state-owned natural lands, wildlife management areas and prime agricultural land.
That could potentially include Clarkdale Fruit Farm in Deerfield. Tom Clark, the 66-year-old owner, said the pipeline could affect hundreds of peach and apple trees.
"We'd be horribly impacted," he said during the rally, which drew more than 100 people. "You can't plant trees on top of a pipeline."
Kulik told the News Service that he would grade Patrick "very highly" on environmental issues. But he pointed to Tuesday's resignation of three members of an advisory panel on greenhouse gas emission reductions, who said they were concerned about potential new natural-gas infrastructure and large-scale hydro power negatively affecting the focus on renewable energy growth.
"He's been a great leader in renewable energy, conservation, the protection of land, particularly sensitive environmental lands, and that's why I and many of the people here and the people who resigned from the advisory panel yesterday are very puzzled and concerned about Governor Patrick's position on this," Kulik said, before Patrick offered his remarks to reporters.
Kulik said he realizes most of the permitting and review of the project would come under the purview of the federal government, "but we should do everything we can at the state level to ensure an open and transparent process."
Reps. Denise Andrews, D-Orange, and Sheila Harrington, R-Groton, also spoke at the rally.
"I realized I came here with way more questions now than I have answers for, because it seems like every single day there's a little new element that we did not know," Harrington told the crowd. "And that's a big problem. I'm joining with my fellow legislators to try to put the brakes on it at this point."
Sen. Stephen Brewer, a western Massachusetts Democrat, took time away from three conference committees he's serving on to speak with pipeline opponents outside his office. Brewer told them he opposed the siting of a prison in New Braintree when it was pushed by former Gov. Michael Dukakis.
"In a fight with David and Goliath, I stand with David," Brewer said. "I stand with you."
Michael Norton contributed reporting.