Published in the April 28, 2016 edition
By BOB TUROSZ
NORTH READING – Opponents of the Kinder Morgan gas pipeline that was planned to cut a route through North Reading savored the company’s decision last week to pull the plug on the controversial plan, even though they know this may only be a temporary reprieve.
Last week Kinder Morgan and its subsidiary Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. cited “inadequate” capacity commitments from potential customers, said it was suspending further work and spending on its proposed 400 mile pipeline known as Northeast Energy Direct and its offshoot, the Lynnfield Lateral, which would have cut a swath through North Reading. The original plan called for the pipeline to be in operation by 2018 with delivery capacity totaling up to 1.3 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day.
The lack of customer commitments has made the $3.3 billion pipeline economically unfeasible for now, Kinder Morgan said in a statement. “Unfortunately, despite working for more than two years and expending substantial shareholder resources, TGP did not receive the additional commitments it expected,” Kinder Morgan said in a statement. “As a result, there are currently neither sufficient volumes, nor a reasonable expectation of securing them, to proceed with the project as it is currently configured.”
Local opponents of the pipeline, who fought the project since the day about 2 ½ years ago when Kinder Moran representatives knocked on their doors seeking permission to survey on their land, were thrilled to hear the news.
In addition to the environmental damage they warned the pipeline would cause, the opponents said all along natural gas was not needed in this area, that it was intended for export and feared its close proximity to their homes impact on property values.
“As ecstatic as I am that this project was cancelled, I am also disheartened by the fact that our opposition did not cause this,” said Ed DeSousa, 2 Scotland Heights. “It was the corporate greed and lack of financial justification that ultimately killed the project. During this process, I was also enlightened that our state Department of Public Utilities (DPU) is a useless government board that has always sided with special interests versus the actual public.”
Selectman Jeff Yull was North Reading’s liaison to the Northeast Municipal Gas Pipeline Coalition, representing cities and town affected by the planned pipeline route. He cautioned this may not be the last we’ve heard of the pipeline.
“It’s not over by a long shot. As long as it’s suspended, it could come back,” he said.
“I’m not confident it’s over and done. They suspended the project but didn’t terminate it. I see this as a reprieve until the prices (of natural gas) move up. The possibility of a pipeline will remain for years to come until FERC denies the project or the filing has been withdrawn.”
All the same, Yull is pleased with the outcome at this point. “This is good news. The manner in which Kinder Morgan pursued the project was not positive for abutters. They didn’t appear to be falling over themselves to overcome the opposition. Everybody understood the need for gas but the manner in which they were doing it was careless and I had a problem with that.”
Phil Crawford, originally from North Reading, is a Selectman in Lynnfield. He also cautioned the pipeline could be resurrected at some future date but in the meantime he applauded it as “great news.”
“I’m sure we have not heard the end of this and the fact that they have only ‘suspended’ the project has me concerned. Prices will rebound at some point and, whether it is Kinder Morgan or another energy provider, I would expect the pipeline project will be resurrected.
“The protection of the rights of private property owners and their property, town owned land, conservation land, wetlands and water supplies needs to be addressed at both the state and federal levels,” Crawford stated.
Patty and Steve Woodbury, 7 Damon St., opposed the project and refused to grant Kinder Morgan permission to survey their land. The Woodburys attended numerous meetings in opposition to the pipeline and didn’t see Kinder Morgan’s pullout decision coming, which made it all the more thrilling.
One hundred percent of the people at the DPU hearings in Lynnfield and Andover were opposed to the pipeline and were very vocal, Patty Woodbury said, not only about their personal property but the effects on the environment and the violation of Article 97 of the state constitution protecting conservation land.
Environmentalists had raised concern about the pipeline’s impact on state parkland and over 100 conservation parcels along its proposed route, including the Ipswich River. The town denied access for Kinder Morgan to survey for the pipeline on town owned land.
Stories about Kinder Morgan’s financial problems only made it worse, Patty Woodbury said, because of concerns the company would go bankrupt and not be able to maintain the pipeline. “It was such a threat, I was just dreading them coming and destroying the woods and our vernal pool. We’ve lived here 40 years and it just seemed this big company was coming in to take it away.”
“They were just so aggressive and really kind of nasty,” she said, citing a packet from Kinder Morgan’s attorney “threatening if we didn’t work with them now, we wouldn’t be able to work with them later.”
She gave the opponents a lot of credit for sticking to their guns. She said company representatives at one of the hearings told her they’ve never seen such intense opposition to a project.
Kinder Morgan’s statement was released on Wednesday of last week, which happened to be Steve Woodbury’s birthday. It was the best present he could wish for.
“It’s been 2 ½ years of worry and meetings. The grassroots movement, of which we were part of just overpowered them. I don’t think they anticipated this level of opposition.
“Massachusetts doesn’t need this. Not that we couldn’t use more gas but not at the price of an $8 billion pipeline going through private property. They don’t maintain their pipes and eventually new pipes become old pipes. And people realized a lot of this gas was going to go up to Canada or overseas. Kinder Morgan never denied this and people asked, ‘what will we get out of it?’
Finally, said Steve, Kinder Morgan was planning on having the ratepayers pay for this. “They were planning to pass the bill on to the electric companies who would pass it on to us. When Gov. Baker told them they couldn’t put this on the backs of the rate payers, I think that helped dissuade their thinking. Though gas prices may have gone down initially, people’s electric bills would have soared.
“All those things just really got to them, with their financial trouble. The opposition wasn’t going to let up, it was going to get tougher,” Steve said.
He thanked Jeff Yull, State Rep. Brad Jones Jr. and Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto for their efforts on representing the residents. “They were with us all the way.”
Rep. Jones said Kinder Morgan’s decision was “wonderful news” and a “victory for the residents of the 20th Middlesex District.”
“From the outset, legitimate questions were raised about how this project would impact the environment, public health and public safety but Kinder Morgan was never able to adequately address those concerns.
“It was also becoming increasingly clear that the gas flowing through this pipeline would have been used primarily for exporting purposes, with no direct benefit for Massachusetts,” Jones said.
T.A. Gilleberto said the Kinder Morgan decision is “certainly encouraging news.”
“The issue of demand in the region was one the Coalition and the Board of Selectmen had questioned. It appears Kinder Morgan didn’t feel the demand was there. We’re all familiar with the fluctuations that occur in the energy market and this is something the town will need to continue to monitor.”