The company Kinder Morgan plans to build a natural gas pipeline through the Central Berkshire region. This pipeline will transport fracked gas from Pennsylvania to New England and beyond.
The pipeline project is known as Northeast Energy Direct (NED). The pipeline is expected to break ground for construction in January of 2016, if all goes well for Kinder Morgan.
The process for approval is currently wrapping up the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) Environmental Impact Statement. Scoping hearings were held over the summer on how to proceed with the study.
At one of these hearings, held on July 27 at Taconic Hills High School in Pittsfield, The View was able to make contact with two speakers in particular: on the pro-pipeline side, Adam Lupino, Regional Policy Coordinator for the New England Branch of the Laborer’s International Union of North America, and, on the anti-pipeline side, Stephen Philbrick, author and minister of West Cummington Congregational Church.
Both gentlemen agreed to be interviewed to show the two sides of the issue. These are their stories.
Adam Lupino supports the pipeline.
Lupino is the spokesman for the Laborers International Union of North America, or LiUNA. From Cranston, Rhode Island, Lupino is the spokesman for the entire New England region for the union. He has worked full time for the union as regional policy coordinator since 2007.
He spoke in favor of the pipeline at the FERC scoping session in Pittsfield on July 27, 2015.
Lupino spoke to The View in August about his comments and his union’s support for the pipeline.
Lupino says unequivocally that LiUNA’s position on the Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline is full support. He believes that Kinder Morgan’s efforts in the approval process will ultimately end with the pipeline being permitted.
LiUNA supports natural gas expansion in the region as a matter of union policy generally, and supports NED specifically. Lupino says that the union sees the project as good for LiUNA members in the area.
Pipelines are a major industry for laborers, he says, with added economic benefits to consumers and businesses.
From a New England regional perspective, he said, the area’s economy will be helped. New England has some of the highest energy costs in the country.
Of most consequence, says Lupino, is the surge in job growth he says will come from the pipeline’s construction. Lupino believes that thousands of jobs will be created by the pipeline’s construction; jobs for “general laborers, pipe-fitters, engineers, operators, and the Teamsters.”
Lupino claims fifty-five thousand members in the New England region under the LiUNA banner. The big commitment from Kinder Morgan to his union is important. But he also recognizes there are those who oppose the project.
“We strongly believe [opponents of he pipeline] are misleading the public and spreading misinformation,” he said. “There are legitimate environmental concerns and legitimate landowner concerns, but FERC involves landowners… There aren’t many federal processes that involve landowners, so we should all be respectful of the process.”
From the point of view of LiUNA, Kinder Morgan has been extremely open about their safety record. This information is readily available, says Lupino, and in a difficult industry, Kinder Morgan has been more than good on safety.
When asked about concerns about the pipeline’s safety and ability to withstand fractures and breaks, Lupino was optimistic, saying the pipeline would be constructed in the ”safest way possible.”
Lupino also responded to concerns residents have about the original right of way for the pipeline running roughly parallel to I-90. The union does not have a position on the route, but wants the route to be the best one that can be permitted and approved.
At the end of the day, what Lupino and LiUNA say they want is to see the FERC process work its way to its conclusion.
“One thing that’s getting lost here is that we’re preparing for it as if it would happen tomorrow,” said Lupino. “We have resources in the training of new workers. People are welcome to come to our 150 acre training site in Hoppington, MA. We have people doing a lot of work getting ready. For a project of this size, we need to have people ready on day one.”
Stephen Philbrick opposes the pipeline.
Philbrick is minister of the West Cummington Congregational Church. Philbrick lives in Windsor, MA, in a community that the pipeline will cross. In fact, his home is within half a mile of the pipeline’s proposed path.
Philbrick spoke out against the pipeline at the FERC meeting on July 27th in Pittsfield with a fiery denunciation of not only the pipeline, but also the entire FERC scoping process.
The View caught up with Philbrick over email on Aug. 18.
Philbrick started off our conversation with a definitive declaration: Despite whatever role the public believes that preachers and clergy should have in public life, he’s not going to be quiet on this issue.
Reverend Philbrick says that, first of all, the community government rejection of the pipeline along the route should show a clear and overwhelming push from the region against the project. Philbrick sees this as a conflict of “the will of the people versus the profit of the few.”
Community and state government are central to the democracy aspect of Philbrick’s argument against the pipeline. The minister sees eminent domain as “rough democracy,” perhaps taking away the temporary rights of the individual but ideally helping out the community as a whole.
But when improperly applied, as he sees it in the case of NED, Philbrick says that such use of eminent domain is in fact an abuse.
Philbrick says the issues surrounding the pipeline for his community are quality of life, environmental, and economic- but it’s really the environmental effects that have him worried.
Windsor has been chosen as one of the sites of a compressor station. The compressor stations use pressure to compress gas and help to move it quickly down the lines. They also act as blowout valves for when things go wrong and the lines must be cleared.
The compressor station on Windsor town property, Philbrick fears, will lead to blowout contamination of the local watershed and irreversibly damage the Windsor natural habitat. Of additional concern to Philbirck is the effect that frost heaves will have on the pipes that will run underground.
The pipes, according to Philbrick, that will be used in the hilltowns of the Berkshires will use the lightest gauge allowable due to the density of population, He notes that the gauge is not determined by the need.
Given the propensity for damaging weather and shifting environmental concerns in our area, Philbrick believes that using lighter gauge means “our lives and environment are apparently worth less than those in larger communities.”
Philbirck acknowledges there is another side to the argument. He dismisses Kinder Morgan as a “coyote” among the “sheep” of the community, but recognizes that there are those outside of the company that have an economic interest in working for the project.
The minister believes that the will of the people should be the determining factor in the decision on the pipeline and hopes the union members and others in favor of NED will abide by that.
“NED is a greedy, wasteful and destructive project;” he says, “[and resistance] calls for courage on the part of all our citizens and our legislators.”