Opponents say pipeline benefits are overstated
By John Dillon
VERMONT PUBLIC RADIO | June 18,2013
Critics of a proposed Addison County natural gas pipeline say the developer has exaggerated the project’s environmental and economic benefits.
The latest arguments come in testimony filed with the Public Service Board.
Vermont Gas Systems says its proposed 41-mile Addison pipeline project will bring cheaper, cleaner-burning fuel for homes and businesses along the route.
The testimony filed by opponents late last week aims directly at those arguments.
The Conservation Law Foundation filed expert testimony that challenges Vermont Gas’ claims that its pipeline will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“Vermont gas has not shown that this is a project that will benefit Vermont,” said senior attorney Sandra Levine. “It’s simply not a good deal for Vermont; they have not honestly addressed the greenhouse gas emissions from the project. There are significant impacts to wetlands and other resources.”
Levine said Vermont Gas did not account for the greenhouse gas pollution resulting from extracting and transporting natural gas. She added the company did not measure gas leakage and the impact of methane, the prime component of the fuel.
“Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas and when that is released into the environment it is anywhere from 25 to 75 times more potent in terms of causing problems for climate change,” she said.
Matt Cota of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association also questioned the projected savings to customers from switching to natural gas.
Vermont Gas says customers will save $200 million over 20 years if they use natural gas instead of fuel oil or propane sold by independent dealers. But Cota said that estimate is inaccurate and is based on just one month’s data.
“They took November of 2012 and looked at the current retail price scenario and projected out 20 years to determine what the economic savings would be for Vermont,” he said. “Well, that’s no way to do an analysis.”
Cota said natural gas supplies will inevitably tighten and the price will go up. He said the price of fuel oil sold by his members should also get lower as more domestic supplies are found.
But Vermont Gas is sticking to its estimates. Spokesman Steve Wark pointed to recent history to argue that prices will remain stable.
“So advancements in the last seven to 10 years have led to very strong supply forecasts for over 100 years and have helped natural gas prices remain less than the more expensive foreign oil,” he said. “We do feel very strongly that this trend will continue. And I think it’s not just us, if you look at DPS’ witness, they say the same thing.”
The “DPS” refers to the Department of Public Service, which represents ratepayers in utility issues. The administration of Gov. Peter Shumlin supports the pipeline.
However, a witness for another branch of state government, the Natural Resources Agency, said Vermont Gas did underestimate the greenhouse gas emissions from its project.