Pipeline Protest

Opponents of a proposed natural gas pipeline protest on Boston Common across from the Statehouse in July of 2014.

A new report released by the Toxics Action Center and other organizations questions whether the benefits of expanding the use of natural gas to meet America’s energy needs are worth the potential for environmental harm from the release of greenhouse gases.

The report is being cited by local environmental groups, including a Rehoboth citizens coalition that opposes expansion of a gas pipeline and other facilities in Eastern Massachusetts.

The report,“Natural Gas and Global Warming: A Review of Evidence Finds that Methane Leaks Undercut the Climate Benefits of Gas,” claims that methane released by leaks and the production of natural gas could outweigh the benefits of reduced emissions from other pollutants from gas-burning powerplants.

“For years, communities on the frontlines of proposed pipelines, power plants, compressor stations and LNG terminals have been told by the fossil fuel lobby and politicians that gas is a low-carbon bridge to a clean energy future,” said Sylvia Broude, executive director of the Toxics Action Center. “Today, it’s clearer than ever that this is not the case. New fracked gas infrastructure proposed across the region threatens our climate future, our health and our neighborhoods. It’s time to double down on clean local renewable energy sources right here in New England.”

The report was released jointly Wednesday by the Toxics Action Center, the Frontier Group, Environment America, and local community groups. It concludes that methane, the major component of natural gas, traps many times more heat than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, and that previous studies of leaks from distribution systems and other sources have been underestimated.

The Union of Concerned Scientists says emissions from burning natural gas are much lower than from coal or oil, including 50 percent to 60 percent less in carbon dioxide. However, the organization acknowledged that some studies say that advantage is dependent on keeping leaks to a minimum.

The American Gas Association, on its website, called natural gas a clean alternative to burning other fossil fuels.

“While methane is a greenhouse gas, natural gas produces far less carbon dioxide than coal or oil when combusted and serves as a clean, affordable complement to renewable energy,” its website reads.

The association also quoted a Washington State University study that found leaks from gas distribution systems are declining, amounting to less than 1 percent of natural gas delivered.

Algonquin Gas Transmission LLC, a subsidiary of Spectra Energy, is planning to construct new natural gas facilities in Bristol, Norfolk and Worcester counties as part of a project to expand a 125-mile pipeline to carry up to a billion gallons of gas to New England. The gas would be used to fuel gas-fired electric generating plants.

Part of the pipeline would be routed through Rehoboth, where a huge compression station would be built near the Attleboro line to keep gas flowing through the pipe.

Critics of the project say the new report underlines the need for new forms of clean, renewable energy.

“Our local and state leaders have a choice: whether to support more polluting fossil fuel infrastructure or to embrace clean energy and a 21st century economy for our region,” said Alys Vincent of BC CARES which has sought to mobilize Rehoboth area residents against the pipeline. “For the health of our families and for our climate, we’re hoping they’ll join with us and make the right choice.”

Proponents of the pipeline say it is needed to provide adequate supplies of gas for electric power plants, and would ultimately save New England consumers $1 billion a year.

Opponents say the added gas supply is not needed and object to the utility’s plans to tack a surcharge onto consumer electric bills to pay for the $3 billion pipeline project.

RICK FOSTER can be reached at 508-236-0360 or at rfoster@thesunchronicle.com.

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