Does Massachusetts Need a New Pipeline?

Last year, plans from a Houston energy company to introduce a new natural gas pipeline in New England sparked fierce debate, and the conversation is ongoing. Kinder Morgan, introduced The Northeast Energy Direct Project, which is a proposal to build a pipeline that would connect Massachusetts to abundant natural gas sources in Pennsylvania shale fields. However, the plan has met with significant resistance from local communities.

The initial proposal had the pipeline entering Massachusetts in Richmond at the border with New York. The pipeline would then skirt the upper western edge of MA and end in Dracut. Local residents of the towns that would be affected were quick to fight the idea of subjecting their communities to the construction and potential danger for explosions. In the face of such intense opposition, Kinder Morgan has since replotted the course of the pipeline. It now veers north into New Hampshire before coming to an end in Dracut.

Although the pipeline now bypasses many Massachusetts communities, it still faces avid disapproval from locals.

Massachusetts uses natural gas to heat about half the homes in the state, with two-thirds of the state’s electricity also being fed by natural gas. The share is only expected to increase as dilapidated coal plants shut down. Last year, two of MA’s coal plants ceased to function with a third expected to die out in 2017.

In a state where hard winters are a commonality, this is a disturbing trend. Gordon van Welie, head of ISO New England, the region’s power grid operator, said the region is already running out of available pipeline capacity to provide power during times of high demand. This has created issues such as shortages and spikes in wholesale prices of natural gas.

The volatile fluctuation in heating costs can cause havoc for residents and businesses, not to mention chilly living conditions. Without a steady estimate of fuel costs, business owners have a hard time budgeting and allocating funds to shipping and wholesale costs. According to the Beacon Hill Institute, the introduction of the new pipeline would save small businesses $1,238 annually. Industrial businesses would save an $25,415 annually.

Opponents of the pipeline believe that introducing another source of fossil fuels to the state is not the answer. Shanna Cleveland, an attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, said the region should pursue energy efficient practices more aggressively and find ways to keep the demand for natural gas steady. A study conducted by Black & Veatch has shown that another pipeline would be unnecessary if renewable power and energy efficiency can keep natural gas demand flat.


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