Feuerstein: In support of the Addison County gas pipeline

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Robert Feuerstein co-owner of Kennedy Brothers in Vergennes.

As a co-owner of Kennedy Brothers in Vergennes, I have been looking forward to reducing our greenhouse gas footprint by replacing outdated oil fueled furnaces with smaller, cleaner and more efficient gas furnaces. This will also provide much needed savings to our tenants which are all locally owned small businesses. Thus, I attended the public hearing in Middlebury on Tuesday, Sept. 10.

It was disappointing to hear so many statements that just made no sense ecologically. It was also annoying that almost no supporters got to speak because the opponents listed themselves as supporting the pipeline on the sign-up-to-speak forms. We are as concerned about climate change as much as the opponents to this project, but we see natural gas as the better solution.

Ever since people began using fire, we have abused the environment for our energy needs. Nothing has changed, except there are a lot more people doing it today and we have more sources of energy. No energy source is perfect. Wind farms are despised by otherwise green people because they spoil the views! Hydropower dams rivers. Solar panels requires mining materials and dirty chemical processes to manufacture and many don’t like the look of fields of solar panels. Nuclear has radioactive waste issues. Oil is messy (many oil spills and dirty drilling process) and generates greenhouse gases as does natural gas, wood, coal and biomass. Nothing is perfect.

So it all comes down to one question: What do we choose in order to minimize the mess we make?

Whether it is people denuding mountainsides of trees for firewood, or BP spilling oil in the Gulf of Mexico, or the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster, humankind’s use of energy negatively impacts the environment. So it all comes down to one question: What do we choose in order to minimize the mess we make? Because people aren’t giving up their heat, cooking and lighting, not to mention driving. That is the question the Public Service Board needs to keep in mind as it decides on the certificate of public good for the Colchester-to-Middlebury pipeline.

The pipeline into Middlebury will not make this worse. It will be better since gas for heat can be burned at very high efficiency, compared to oil, and is cleaner burning as well. It is also lower cost which will benefit all the people who can access the gas, as well as businesses. It will not increase the damage to the environment. It will likely reduce negative impacts, and I expect evidence showing that will be provided at the technical hearings the PSB will conduct next week.

All the comments at the PSB meeting in Middlebury about adding to our greenhouse problem make no sense. This replaces one fuel (mostly oil) with more efficient and cleaner gas. It doesn’t lock anyone into gas for the next 100 years either. That is just absurd. It will only be used as long as it makes sense. When we develop new clean energy sources that replace oil and gas, then the gas line will go into disuse.

All the comments on scarring the land make no sense either. Once the construction is complete, it will have much, much, much less of an impact than a road! It is not taking any land. It will be under land that can continue to raise corn or hay or graze cows. One must wonder where the people at this meeting are getting their misinformation. The few pressure control stations and distribution points will be above ground and in out-of-the-way areas.

As for safety, most people in the USA are served by underground gas lines, and have been for decades. It is an exceedingly rare day when someone dies because of a gas explosion. Worrying about the safety of underground pipelines is like worrying about electric lines falling on you as you walk down the street. Almost never happens.

People are messy. Once again, to emphasize the decision under consideration by the Public Service Board: What mess do we choose to make?

In my view a natural gas pipeline is the smaller mess, and provides lower cost energy for the people and businesses of Addison County.

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  • Matt Fisken

    The one thing I don’t understand is why folks who are so desperate to replace their oil/electric furnaces/appliances don’t just switch to propane for the time being. You can always convert the burners to natural gas in the future, if/when the pipeline shows up in your backyard. Sure, propane is expensive, but it’s more efficient than natural gas by volume, it’s not a greenhouse gas by itself and there is very little concern for leaks. I’m pretty sure the propane company owns the tank so when you “upgrade” to natural gas, they will take it away.

    Whether or not the g(r)a(s)s is truly greener on the other side, it doesn’t seem fair to blame the opponents of the pipeline for a bridge not existing. If it had made financial/environmental sense to extend the pipeline during the past 50 years, it would have been done already. Fracking comes along, supply balloons, prices sink and suddenly there’s a rush to lay pipe? Have we forgotten what a single hurricane can do to prices?

    As far as safety concerns, do you have any data to back up your “Almost never happens” statement?

    These websites suggest that it is more frequent than the industry would prefer us to know.

  • Steve Comeau

    Cheers Robert! A voice of reason. Right now, there is no magical and clean renewable fuel that can replace oil, propane, or natural gas to heat homes and business on a large scale. For the foreseeable future we need to use fossil fuel for heat, and natural gas is the best option.

  • No the pipeline process is not, bury it and forget it. Pipelines rupture, are dug up by mistake and as planned are not accessible to the landowner. Private property would be needed to be taken. Canadian owned Vermont Gaz does not own the pathway to your business. Run it down route 7 and I am OK with that. Do not run under the lake or in my neighbor’s organic garden.

  • Greg Lapworth

    Thank you Robert for a thoughtful reasoned opinion.
    What really baffles me is the coalition of the NIMBYS with the Fuel Oil Dealers Assoc.. I can understand that the oil dealers are trying to stifle competition but the NIMBYS don’t seem to realize the oil comes from Canada, probably tar sands or fractured sites. It is without doubt dirtier and more expensive. I think this clearly proves the “antis” are opposed because of the usual “group think” of their cult.
    Would some journalists please do some profiles of the “antis”. It would be eye opening for many to see who these people really are.