Opponents of a proposed natural gas pipeline extension through Addison County want to see the project put on hold until concerns over water contamination are addressed.
The environmental group Rising Tide Vermont rallied outside the Public Service Board offices in Montpelier on Monday to pressure state regulators to delay the construction of the pipeline extension until these concerns are considered.
Jonathan Shapiro, an organizer with Rising Tide, said the group is asking for the state “to suspend pipeline construction until there can be adequate soil testing along the proposed route.”
The wood preservative used to treat utility poles, pentachlorophenol (PCP), has already appeared in one Monkton resident’s water well. The state’s transmission utility, Vermont Electric Power Co. (VELCO), notified the residents and is replacing the well.
But pipeline opponents say more of this “hazardous” chemical is lodged in the soil along the transmission line corridor where about 20 miles of the pipeline is to be buried. By trenching the pipeline here, Rising Tide and several landowners say the chemical will be released into water supplies.
Vermont Gas plans to begin construction of its 41-mile pipeline extension this month. The company is waiting for two permits before it begins construction.
Company spokesman Steve Wark said the issue was not addressed in the state permit it received last year to begin the project.
“Of course regulators will look at this and we will as well,” Wark said. “We want to make sure that we are being a good neighbor.”
He said the company is trenching its pipeline along the edges of VELCO’s right-of-way. He said the company would pay for any water quality damages resulting from the construction of the pipeline.
Monkton resident Selina Peyser, a landowner along the proposed route, submitted a letter to the state last month requesting that it investigate the issue of water contamination. She said she has not received a response.
“Are we going to chance getting ill?” said Peyser, a cancer survivor. “I would just like to get at least some precautionary response from them.”
Peyser went to the Public Service Board’s offices on Monday to speak in person about the issue. A representative from the board said the health department could address her concerns.
“They ducked,” she said. “That’s why I’m sending this letter to the public health department.”
Rising Tide said the state continues to ignore the issue.
“Nobody is actually addressing their concerns,” Shapiro said. “They are choosing not to exercise this power even though they know this is an issue.”
PCP is often used to treat utility poles. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found the chemical can cause fevers, difficulty breathing, and liver and other organ damage. The Environmental Protection Agency found that PCP is a “probable” cancer-causing agent.
VELCO vice president Kerrick Johnson said the company has tested all the groundwater supplies that intersect with existing infrastructure to ensure they are not contaminated as part of the company’s maintenance work within the corridor.
Rising Tide has been opposing the pipeline because Vermont Gas sources some of their gas from the process of fracking, which they say causes environmental destruction and emits the potent heat-trapping greenhouse gas methane.
“We have this responsibility to communities in Alberta, whose land and communities are being destroyed by fracking infrastructure, homeowners and farmers in Addison County, whose land is being threatened by eminent domain and whose groundwater is being threatened by PCPs,” Shapiro said.
“We have a responsibility for all of them to make sure this pipeline does not go forward,” Shapiro said.
He also said the Shumlin administration’s support for the pipeline is hypocritical because the state has banned the process of fracking.
Vermont Gas estimates that natural gas emits 23 percent less greenhouse gases than coal. The company’s report does not state how much of its gas comes from fracking.
The company hired the consulting firm ICF International to conduct the analysis. The firm has previously worked for TransCanada, the prospective builder of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
Vermont Gas is waiting for permits from Agency of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before it begins construction.
Correction: This story was edited at 8:36 on June 10 to clarify an unclear quote from Jonathan Shapiro.