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If only we could see farts/ The true cost of things

Cost is a subjective subject. It seems there are a lot of really smart people out there trying to figure out the “true cost” of the Addison Natural Gas Pipeline. I have perused tables and spread sheets and analyses and papers and testimonies…and it comes to my mind that anyone can create a document that supports their point of view and they can make it look really convincing and professional if they spend a lot of money doing it.

 Currently, Vermont Gas is in the process of proving that the “life cycle” analysis of “natural” gas shows that it really is a cleaner alternative than coal and oil so we should build this pipeline and start saving greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions along with a bunch of money from having a cheaper fuel source. They hired a fancy consultant company to do their study and they produced about an inch thick volume of yet more tables and graphs supporting their claims. (sigh)

 I wish I could say that at least they are creating jobs for Vermonters with their testimony, but alas, the firm they hired is from out of state. (another sigh)

 In case you are not familiar with the present argument, it’s that the gas companies claim that “natural” gas burns cleaner than oil or coal so it’s better for the environment and the opponents say that if you figure in all the “fugitive” methane that is produced during the extraction, refinement and distribution (life cycle) of “natural” gas, the end result is worse than the other two fuels. Why we are arguing which is the lesser of the two or three evils escapes me, (yes, they are all bad) but that is what the fight is about right now. There are lots of other factors to plug into these spreadsheets and cost analyses, but GHG emissions is the “evil du jour” right now. (Next up might be the earth quakes caused by deep well injection practices, or tainted aquifers, or radon in “natural” gas… all of these factors should figure into the “life cycle” cost of “natural” gas…but I digress…)

 This entire GHG controversy, would not be such a difficult one to settle if we could only see the gas that is escaping from gas wells, gas pipelines, compression stations and refineries. If methane were purple, or green or some other color that was visible to the naked eye, not only would we be able to put blame where it was due when someone cuts a silent but deadly one at the dinner table, we would also be able to better get a grip on how much of the stuff is puffing up out of man made gas infrastructure and either plug the holes and build better equipment, and/or stop sucking it up to the surface of our fair planet and leave it down in the bowels where it belongs.

 But methane and farts are invisible. Leaks go undetected until someone puts a special gas sniffer nearby and the wind isn’t blowing too hard that day. So we are back to our predictions and estimates and educated guesses and blaming the dog for the really whiffy ones.

So, if those people get to weigh in on how much they think gas does or doesn’t leak and how much this pipeline will truly cost, I would like to weigh in with some “costs” that have not been included in their analysis.

 Nobody has figured in the loss of property value into the equation. Along the 43 miles of Phase 1 of this pipeline there will be 261 acres of land that will be unusable for anything other than growing lawn or other short rooted plants. (no trees, shrubs, buildings etc.) If you figure in a safety setback (another disputed issue) the acreage increases exponentially.

 I don’t think anyone has figured in the cost of the gazillions of gallons of water that they use to frack the wells. Potable water has a value and that should be figured into the cost of the production of each BTU that will be gained from this pipeline.

 And how about the loss of communities?  What price should be put on the destruction of friendships and strain to relationships this industry is causing?

 And if the process of systematically fracturing all of the shale layers that are miles below the entire surface of the earth will eventually have a detrimental impact on those of us that live above it, what will the cost of that be?

 I guess it all boils down to what I said in the beginning. Cost is subjective and what seems too high a price to some of us seems like a bargain to others. And since farts can’t be visually detected …unless they are accompanied by the characteristic sound of the said gas escaping, we are unable pin the blame on anyone definitively and the poor dog still ends up getting banished from the room.


Nat and Jane Palmer




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