By Lynda King
Among the articles voters will be asked to consider at the May 4 Annual Town Meeting are two that relate to Kinder Morgan’s Northeast Energy Direct gas pipeline project, specifically the North Worcester Lateral branch planned to be routed through Bolton.
Article 23 seeks town support for a resolution adopted by the Board of Selectmen on Aug. 28, 2014, expressing opposition to the pipeline. Article 24 asks voters to direct Bolton’s state representative, Kate Hogan, and state senator, Jennifer Flanagan, to vote ‘no’ on any legislation proposed to remove conservation land from the protection of Article 97 of the Mass. state constitution for any reason, including the installation of a gas pipeline.
The Back Story
The Northeast Energy Direct Project first came into public view early last year when residents in several Massachusetts towns started receiving letters from Kinder Morgan seeking permission to survey their land. People soon discovered that the surveys were a first step in the creation of a new gas pipeline, a project that arose in response to an energy needs projection created by ISO-New England, the entity authorized by the federal government to do power system planning for New England.
Last summer, Kinder Morgan held a series of informational sessions in towns across the state in an effort to sell the benefits of the NED project, which at that time was slated to traverse northern Massachusetts from the western border all the way to Dracut, where it would connect with another pipeline headed north.
People in towns potentially affected by the proposed route formed pipeline opposition groups and delved into the complex issues around the pipeline in an effort to understand if a new gas pipeline was justified, not only in terms of projected energy requirements, but also in light of Massachusetts’ commitment to expanding “green energy” alternatives to meet future energy needs. Two statewide groups—MassPLAN and No Fracked Gas in Mass—formed to help educate people about the pipeline through information gathered from the energy industry and from Kinder Morgan itself. They made information available in an extensive online repository and also gave presentations to the public, including one in Bolton last year.
Kinder Morgan asserts that natural gas is a logical bridge to a green energy future, augmenting power produced by solar and wind systems, and says on its website, “Natural gas also benefits the power generation sector as older coal plants are retired and nuclear generating plants are replaced over time.”
Opponents say that the process of delivering natural gas releases a significant amount of methane into the atmosphere, a gas believed to be a driver of global warming. They believe that a commitment to a new pipeline keeps the state tied to fossil fuel use, and beyond that, they list a host of other reasons for opposing the pipeline.
Opposition groups have made their opinions known to state and local officials, and since May 2014, 43 towns in six Massachusetts counties have passed resolutions to ban the pipeline. Responding to anti-pipeline pressure, Kinder Morgan late last year opted for a new route for the pipeline that would take the bulk of it through New Hampshire, collocated along established public utility rights-of-way, and would send a smaller portion back down into Massachusetts to the planned junction in Dracut. Nevertheless, opposition to the NED project continues, and has been joined by opposition groups in New Hampshire.
Meanwhile, the North Worcester Lateral branch of the pipeline hasn’t received much attention, and some people have assumed that its route was affected by the change in route of the overall NED project—which it wasn’t. The lateral is still planned to branch off Bolton’s existing pipeline at a point on Harvard Road and continue on a path to North Worcester that would take it through private properties and conservation and farm lands not only in Bolton, but also Berlin, Boylston, and Shrewsbury.
The Bolton selectmen, after attending information sessions held by Kinder Morgan in town last summer and doing some investigation on their own, decided the pipeline would be a bad deal for Bolton.
In particular, the board cited Kinder Morgan’s plans to route the pipeline across “some of the most historic, scenic and environmentally sensitive farmland and open space in Bolton, including conservation land owned by the town of Bolton.”
Further, they concluded that the North Worcester Lateral would adversely affect property values, would affect some residents’ livelihoods, and would have a negative impact on the scenic character of the town. They also pointed to the dangers that come with a pipeline, including the possibilities of leaks, ruptures and explosions.
On Aug. 28, 2014, selectmen joined their counterparts in more than 40 towns across the state by formalizing all of their objections to the pipeline project in a resolution that was adopted unanimously by the board, a decision that was applauded by attendees at the meeting.
Supporting the selectmen’s resolution, the Bolton Conservation Commission on Oct. 29 filed a formal comment with FERC—the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which permits and oversees pipeline projects. The commission’s filing listed its causes for concern, among them the “loss of protected and environmentally important land that is a large component of our community and its heritage.” The commission also expressed concerns about Kinder Morgan’s lack of transparency in revealing details about the project and questioned whether the project was necessary at all.
On Nov. 6, representatives of NSTAR (now Eversource), the pipeline’s only customer identified by Kinder Morgan to date, attended a Board of Selectmen’s meeting to explain their company’s role as a customer for the gas to be transported on the North Worcester Lateral.
In a telephone interview this week, Selectman Larry Delaney said that NSTAR representatives told the board they wanted to increase their service north.
He noted, “They currently have two sources of gas in Worcester already; the North Worcester Lateral would be the third, used to expand service.”
Delaney said that the gas to be transported on the North Worcester Lateral would not actually be available to the towns along its route, but was destined to expand NSTAR’s customer base in other towns. He said, “Sending this pipeline through Bolton to give NSTAR/Eversource a way to increase natural gas in Sterling and West Boylston is nuts.”
At this year’s Annual Town Meeting, on May 4, voters will be asked to support the selectmen’s resolution, thereby having the town speak with effectively one voice on the issue. The resolution not only states the selectmen’s objections to the pipeline, but also states their commitment in backing up their concerns. In particular, it states that selectmen will participate in and provide comments to any scoping meetings held by FERC and will become an “intervenor” if necessary to oppose Kinder Morgan’s application and the issuance of a certificate of public necessity and convenience, which is one of the keystones to FERC approval.
Asked this week if Bolton had entered into the intervenor process yet, Delaney said, “Not yet; it’s too premature for that. That will probably happen in the fall.”
He said that the next milestone in the process is “scoping sessions,” where FERC takes oral and written comments. As soon as the town is notified about the sessions, he said, the information will be put on the town website.
A major concern of towns in Massachusetts that are in the path of the pipeline is the prospect of Kinder Morgan forcing its pipeline across protected land in Massachusetts by calling for a vote of the Massachusetts Legislature to take conservation lands out of the protection of Article 97 of the state’s constitution.
Article 24 of the Annual Town Meeting warrant, if passed, would help prevent this from happening by instructing Bolton’s state legislators to vote ‘no’ should any such legislation come up for a vote.