Opposition to proposed gas pipeline is misguided

Our current energy situation is untenable, and it must be addressed

Opponents of the Northeast Natural Gas Pipeline are mobilizing to try to stop construction of the line, which would bring inexpensive shale gas to New England from Pennsylvania.

There is no debate about whether New Hampshire — and the rest of New England — needs greater access to the abundant natural gas that’s being produced in Pennsylvania and New York. Every winter we are subjected to significant gas price spikes when the demand for heat and power exceeds the supply that can be supported by our feeble gas supplies. The impact of those spikes has been devastating, causing businesses to temporarily halt operations and families to have to choose between budgeting for electricity and heat or for other necessities. 

Our current energy situation is untenable, and it must be addressed.

Opposition to the pipeline revolves around two primary environmental concerns. First, opponents complain that the pipelines will be subject to gas leaks and other infrastructure failures, and could imperil the environment.

They point to well-publicized incidents involving natural gas accidents that have occurred in residential or commercial areas. However, this argument reflects a lack of understanding of the pipeline and what its construction will entail. 

When accidents occur, they typically happen in older communities with antiquated infrastructure. The affected gas lines are usually 75 to 100 years old, and some go back to the 1830s. These lines don’t meet modern standards for gas transmission.

The proposed pipeline will be constructed of modern materials and conform to contemporary standards. There really is no comparison between this proposed pipeline and the old urban pipelines to which they are being compared.

The second environmental complaint is that developing the pipeline would mean that we are giving up on renewable energy. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Renewable energy is America’s future. It is particularly vital to the Northeast, because we don’t produce fossil fuels. We will always be at the mercy of fuel-producing areas until we are able to meet our needs ourselves through renewables. 

The fact of the matter is that we are many years away from being able to meet our power and thermal needs through renewable energy sources. Natural gas is the essential bridge fuel that will carry us to that renewable future.

This is not a choice between natural gas and renewable energy; it’s a choice between clean-burning gas and much dirtier oil and coal. Certainly, increased access to natural gas will offer financial advantages, since gas is much cheaper than oil and coal. Our economy will benefit greatly if businesses can reduce their energy and heating costs. Likewise, New Hampshire families will profit from being able to pay less to power and heat their homes.

Where opponents really miss the boat is with the environmental implications of the pipeline. If the pipeline is not built, and if we continue to be subjected to frequent natural gas shortages, New Hampshire utilities, businesses and families will have no choice but to turn to much dirtier and less healthy options like oil and coal. Even biofuel systems that burn wood or wood pellets, while using renewable fuel, are extremely dirty and introduce unhealthy pollutants into the air that we breathe.

If we are going to make a commitment to seeking cleaner energy, we need to start by continuing the transition from oil and coal to natural gas. The pipeline is an important element of that transition.

The Northeast Natural Gas Pipeline won’t be a permanent solution. In fact, it won’t even be a long-term solution. However, it will provide access to the abundant and affordable energy New Hampshire and the rest of New England will need as we continue to develop the renewable technologies of the future.

Mike Nicoloro is senior vice president and Joan Fontaine is vice president at Sanborn, Head & Associates Inc., Concord. Together, they manage Sanborn Head’s energy division.

Categories: Opinion