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Common sense says no to pipeline

(Published in the Rutland Heard on August 11th 2013)

In recent days I have read several opinions on why natural gas would be Vermont’s savior.  It frustrates me to read the same old arguments again and again.  I believe that they lack good old common sense, even though they are written by good people and responsible organizations.  

 I live in Orwell on Lake Champlain about 5 miles south of the Plant.  I have in no way any interest in seeing International Paper go out of business or see any of my County’s businesses suffer needlessly from the lack of a “competitive advantage.”  Their future is important to me.  Most Vermont companies are strong and our unemployment rate is relatively low.  Many companies in areas where natural gas has been in place for years are doing much worse with unemployment rates much higher.  The future will simply not be “rosier” if we tie into this service. 

 My neighbor said to me recently, “it’s cheaper!”  I used to believe that switching to natural gas would save us money.  I’ve come to realize that natural gas is presently being mined with a financial loss at the wellhead.   Prices are low because of the recent proliferation of fracking.  Gaz Metro now sits on way more gas than it has the infrastructure to sell to consumers.  Too much supply; not enough demand.  Once supply reaches customers, natural gas will become competitive.  Prices will rise.  Thinking there will be big savings in a few years is not good economics.  States placing moratoriums on fracking may actually create less supply and drive prices even higher.

 Then my neighbor said, “it’s cleaner.”  It does reduce greenhouse emissions at the site of consumption but, because of leaks of methane at the wellhead and compressor stations along the pipeline route and because of the contamination caused by fracking, it is simply not cleaner.  Here are quotes from two experts in the field:  In a July 28, 2013 article in the NY Times, Anthony Infraffea, a longtime oil and gas engineer, who helped developed shacking techniques for the Energy Department, said of fracking “I can assure you that this gas is not ‘clean.’   Because of leaks of methane, the main component of natural gas, the gas extracted from shale deposits is not a “bridge” to a renewable energy future — it’s a gangplank to more warming and away from clean energy investments.”  Louis Allstadt, former executive VP of Mobil, in a July 19, 2013 interview with said “ 20,  30, 100 years down the road we don’t know how much methane is going to be making its way up. And if you do hundreds of thousands of wells, there’s a good chance you’re going to have a lot of methane coming up, exacerbating global warming.”

And “it’s safe?”  Why may seismic tests be required in areas where gas is being fracked?  What about polluting our water resources with methane and chemicals?  How explosive is natural gas?  And, further, what did Donna Wadsworth, spokeswoman for the IP Plant, mean when she said at the Shoreham forum, that the reasons the NY pipeline route from Plattsburgh could not happen were that it was “too costly” and, more importantly, that it would run through “an environmentally sensitive area.”  Is the pipeline hurting the environment? And are Shoreham, Cornwall, and the Lake NOT environmentally sensitive?

“What about eminent domain?” I said to my neighbor.  “What if the gas company wanted your land ?  Could you afford to defend yourself?  Would you get less for your easement, because you decided not to ‘go along.’?”    And another question, “how does an easement affect your land value?”   Results of studies vary, depending on whether you’re hooked up or not.   What I do know now is that my property assessment by my town is determined by my resale value.  Some people might not want a property with a cumbersome easement on it and might buy somewhere else without such restrictions.

What about the town’s tax revenue?   Are Shoreham and Cornwall giving or receiving towns?  Does that make a difference?  And might that make what they get less?

And, finally, is it in the public good for Phase II to connect to IP?  Is it a jobs argument?  Nine years ago IP said they would go out of business if they could not burn tires for fuel.  They didn’t!  Is Vermont going to lose those (as Donna stated) 12 permanent Vermont jobs and 200 related loggers and truckers jobs if they don’t get the gas?”

What about the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association estimated 15% loss in gross income?  How many of its 3,000 members is 15%?  That was money going back into Rutland’s economy.   Once the pipeline is installed and the more automated infrastructure remains, those monies leave the country for Canada.

What did Donna Wadsworth mean when she said that the 20 million dollar savings figure was “greatly exaggerated” and, in fact, much smaller.  Why would a company spend 70 million dollars for such a small return when 9 years ago they refused to spend what amounted to $5 million dollars on a precipitator that would allow them to burn tires more safely?   And what is the future blueprint of IP?  What does the infrastructure of a pipeline add to the value of the plant?  Will it be more salable now?   What if Vermont Gas wanted to buy IP?  What if they wanted to buy their two existing power generating plants and add two more and then make more power, and then sell that power to Manhattan on a power line soon to be going down the center of the Lake? 

 What would it take for IP to NOT build a pipeline?    We could keep our money in Vermont and we could hold on to our environmentally sensitive area.  It might make sense for us to urge IP to move toward a “greener” image–one in which they might truly be a “good neighbor.”  Donna Wadsworth already told us that they were planning new solar power for some processes and that they already were 53% renewable and that they had a new option to buy vegetable oil.   Such tactics in an industry with a dirty reputation are effective marketing tools that could be the competitive advantage that Donna said IP seeks.   Financial incentives for moving to alternative energy would help with cost and the plant would need less income to produce higher profits.   Plant wins, we win!

 If Rutland wants a pipeline, let Rutland finance it.  Or Omya?  Not IP, who will be doing it at the expense of the greater Middlebury area, Cornwall, Shoreham and Leicester.  We all want the same things for our communities; we just disagree on how to get there.  I hope we can reach a successful conclusion together. 

Norton Latourelle
Member, Vermont Citizens for the Public Good

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