Posted by: coastlinesproject | August 9, 2014

Natural Gas Pipelines

The Pipeline



On July 30th a small group of people gathered on Boston Common to protest the construction of a $6 billion pipeline that would supply the electrical needs of 1.5 million homes. It would also allow power plants to continue converting to natural gas, which is four times cleaner than coal.


Most of the protesters were homeowners who feared the pipeline would lower their property values. But John Hutchinson-Lavin had a different argument. He argued that Kinder Morgan, the company proposing the pipeline, actually planned to export the gas. I guess he thought that folks are so clever down in Houston that they have figured out how to make a killing piping gas from Texas to Boston then shipping it by LNG to the Middle East. I wonder if he might want to invest in my little business plan to bring to coals to Newcastle? Other protesters were there to stop companies from extracting natural gas in Pennsylvania.


But the protest got me thinking. As a kid I grew up in Dover Massachusetts. You might have heard of it. Boston Globe columnist Mike Barnicle used to chide Dover for its mile-long driveways and having more trees than people. It was not known for its low land values.


When I was about eight, Algonquin Gas laid a natural gas pipeline behind our house. I imagine everyone was compensated for the use of their land. I just remember walking my dog through the woods to watch the huge excavators connect and bury the sections of pipes. I was intrigued with the idea of the pipeline snaking its way all the way back to the Gulf of Mexico.


But after a few weeks, the excavators covered up the pipeline and everything went back to normal. The scar over the pipeline gradually healed to become a nice broad path that now weaves its way through the thick woods. The only problem that I have been able to discover is that several years ago someone found some invasive plants growing on the pathway.


Other than that, the pipeline was so forgotten that neither Dover’s town clerk nor its conservation agent even knew that there was a pipeline running under the town. Presumably all this time the pipeline has been transporting millions of cubic feet of gas without incident. So much so, that Massachusetts now uses natural gas to produce 60% of its electricity.


This would seem to reiterate the point that pipelines are considered to be the safest way to transport oil and natural gas. In Houston where I was recently writing about fracking almost every intersection had markers indicating where pipelines crisscrossed the state.


But the Boston Common protest was not the only anti natural gas action. In Salem organizers were planning to hold “The Festival for the Future” on August 16th. They wanted to stop Salem’s Footprint Power from converting to natural gas and force it to replace the old coal plant with wind fields instead.


But there was no plan to build an offshore wind farm and a proposal to build wind turbines in Salem Harbor’s Winter Island had been blocked for almost a decade. In the meantime, people had become rather used to flicking a switch and having their lights turn on.


As much as we might want to switch over to renewable energy as quickly as possible, we have to face the reality that it cannot be done overnight. Converting power plants to natural gas has allowed the United States to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide it produces for 4 out of the last 7 years. During that same time countries like Germany and England have increased their emissions of carbon because the cap and trade policies they adopted did not produce enough income to build the wind and solar facilities they promised the world they would construct.

If we are going to make the transition from an economy based on petroleum to one based on renewable energy we have to stop demonizing natural gas. We are going to need natural gas power plants that can be designed to include renewable energy as those resources come online. As Salem Alliance for the Future (SAFE) has written, natural gas is an appropriate if not ideal bridge to get us to a future based on renewable energy.




William Sargent is a member of Storm Surge. His books are available in local bookstores and through and See tabs at the top of this page.








  1. Great article, Bill –

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. I agree with your response Bill. Natural Gas has the promise to significantly help the US in the future, either by lowering our energy costs to bring back manufacturing, cleaner energy, or allowing us to become less dependent on unstable countries. We will also export where appropriate, and this allows us to tie better with allies.

    I recently flew (low) out to Northern Wisconsin for the annual Oshkosh Airventure. I hadn’t been there since 2011. I was surprised by the number of extremely large wind fields (think hundreds, or thousand+ wind turbines) in farmers fields in the mid west. Also the amount of tracking occurring in the hills of Eastern PA.

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