Energy

No need to finish pipeline before appeal is decided, say foes

Opponents are taking issue with Vermont Gas Systems’ arguments for why it should be allowed to complete its contested pipeline before a court decides whether the company can have a necessary easement.

Vermont Gas has asked the state Supreme Court to let it build the final section of the 41-mile pipeline to Addison County while the easement issue is pending before the justices.

Opponents Monday disputed the company’s claims that further construction delays would hurt customers and the environment.

Vermont Gas incurs about $750,000 in nonrecoverable expenses for every month of delay, according to its Nov. 4 motion asking to finish construction.

But two harms the company claims from delays in construction — increased greenhouse gas emissions and increased cost for ratepayers this winter — have been disproven, according to Bristol-based attorney Jim Dumont’s response to Vermont Gas.

Bernie Sanders, Bill McKibben
Bill McKibben. File photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Dumont represents seven Hinesburg residents who are fighting the company’s plan to lay a 2,000-foot section of the pipeline — the last unfinished piece — beneath the town’s Geprags Park. The state Supreme Court case proceeds from Vermont Gas’ attempt to secure an easement through the park.

Environmental advocate Bill McKibben in an affidavit argued against Vermont Gas’ claim that completing the pipeline this winter will reduce Vermonters’ greenhouse gas emissions. Vermont Gas says heating oil and propane cause more harm to the climate when burned than methane does. Natural gas consists almost entirely of methane.

“In fact, the opposite is true,” McKibben said in an affidavit dated Nov. 8. “Any delay in the use of the pipeline will actually decrease Vermont’s contributions of greenhouse gases.”

The fact that methane emits less carbon dioxide than other fossil fuels during combustion, McKibben said, is “clearly a red herring.”

The last three years, since the state granted Vermont Gas a permit for the pipeline, have seen advances in climate science showing that natural gas has no less an effect on the atmosphere than does coal, McKibben said in the filing.

The changing consensus has nothing to do with whether methane, coal or oil burns cleaner, McKibben said.

Instead, he said, scientists have recently found that gas producers lose enough methane while producing and transporting natural gas that any benefits from cleaner combustion are outweighed.

The delay also won’t cost Vermonters through their heating bills, Dumont claims.

He submitted a rate analysis to the court Monday that shows most Vermonters will in fact save money by using heating oil or propane this winter instead of the natural gas Vermont Gas hopes to supply with its pipeline.

He said the analyses Vermont Gas used to persuade the Public Service Board to approve its permit relied on years-old information, from when oil cost much more.

Furthermore, it’s the fault of Vermont Gas that the company is arguing for an easement across Geprags Park after all but 2,000 feet of the pipeline has been built, Dumont said.

The company until last winter had relied on an invalid agreement with the town of Hinesburg, Dumont said, and made no attempt to find alternate routes in case that agreement didn’t hold up.

A Vermont Gas representative said all these arguments by Dumont represented little more than a last-ditch effort by a handful of people to obstruct a pipeline eagerly awaited by Vermont families and businesses.

Beth Parent
Beth Parent, spokeswoman for Vermont Gas Systems. File photo by Erin Mansfield/VTDigger

“We have folks that are waiting for us to start having gas flow through the pipeline,” said spokeswoman Beth Parent. Only “a small number of individuals” are preventing that, she said.

Completing the pipeline would take around four weeks, she said, and the company will begin pumping gas as soon as it’s done.

The court has not yet begun taking briefs in the easement case, Dumont said, but he added that based on past experience the court may begin taking briefs in four to six weeks.

If the court were to decide against Vermont Gas after the pipeline was already built beneath Geprags Park, it could be abandoned or removed, the company said in its Nov. 4 motion.

The appeal to the court stems from the Public Service Board’s Sept. 12 order granting an easement across Geprags Park.

Dumont argued that the board erred because land already dedicated to public use can’t be condemned through eminent domain unless the Legislature intervenes.

Parent said Vermont Gas will likely file a response to Dumont’s latest claims before the weekend.

“We are focused — and have been and will be — on serving these folks in Addison County as soon as we can,” Parent said.

(Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Dumont’s argument against the PSB order.)

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  • John Grady

    If Vermont doesn’t use the gas it will still be burned.
    VT Digger should expose the lifestyles and carbon foot print of the people claiming to care about the environment.

    • Voters of Monkton,Vermont said No to Fracking. To me it meant Globally! Selectboard, Governor Shumlin, Public Service Board let Canadian owned Vermont Gas start building BEFORE all the easements and right of way was fully established. Incremental, fragmented, poorly planned. Joke at State Government: easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission. The pipeline is running perilously close to High Voltage power lines. Each pole/ power tower is Grounded. Nice work allowing Canadians monopolies-green mountain power+Vermont gas.

    • Jane Palmer

      John Grady, Please explain your statement. Are you saying that we should continue to build out expensive fossil fuel infrastructure just because everyone else is doing it? What is the reasoning behind that? Actually, many proposed gas pipelines are not being built. http://www.ecowatch.com/10-fracking-infrastructure-projects-canceled-or-delayed-in-the-last-24-1891122918.html
      And what is it that you think motivates those that oppose the pipeline? The only thing anyone has to gain from opposing the build out of fossil fuel infrastructure is a future on a livable planet. Think about it before you attack those that are stepping out of their comfort zone to do the right thing.

    • John, you ignore the power of cumulative impacts. We are in this predicament not because one person is burning fossil fuels but because billions of us are. Each person’s contribution to the problem individually seems insignificant, but when combined becomes an issue of geologic proportions. The same will be true for the solution…billions of small seemingly insignificant acts can reverse our predicament. What we do here in little ‘ole Vermont does and will matter, just like what you and I do personally each day.

  • Rachel Smolker

    Beth Parent and VGS continue to repeat their mantra about all those people eagerly awaiting their gas. Bt they have only a small handful of residential customers who might – for might not – choose to hook up to VGS distribution is Addison County. Meanwhile, people have been fighting against this pipeline for YEARS NOW – even long before the “handful” of people who have been involved in resistance at Geprags. Over 200 people were protesting at Geprags a couple weeks ago – and that was on a workday when MANY MANY MANY could not be with us. How many is “a small number of individuals” according to Beth/VGS? Vermont does not want your pipeline. Doing construction before the court decides would make no sense. People all over the country do NOT want pipelines. Why? Because they leak and explode and destroy water and take peoples properties and contribute greenhouse gases to our burning atmosphere. Simple and straightforward.

    • Barrie Bailey

      No matter how hard Vt Gas wishes we would forget, the fact is that natural gas is a FOSSIL FUEL, one that melts ice shelfs and causes escalating, irreparable climate damage.

  • Lisa Barrett

    Procrastination and mismanagement by Vermont Gas has caused far more delays than the appeal will cause. For five months in the 2015 construction season,Vt Gas did NO construction, apparently because it had no construction contract. For three years after the PSB ok’d the project, VT Gas has failed to consider any routes that did not include Geprags Park, even though VT law since 1928 has held that only the Legislature can authorize condemnation of land that already has a public use. And it appears VT Gas never asked the Legislature to make an exception.

  • Jane Palmer

    So glad Mr McKibben has finally stepped up to the plate and weighed in on this gas pipeline boondoggle. This project always been about the money (for Gaz Metro). VGS only used the inaccurate improved greenhouse gas predictions as a last ditch effort to justify this insanely expensive fossil fuel infrastructure build out that will be obsolete long before it is ever paid for. THANK GOODNESS for those few individuals that stepped up to the plate and are holding out against this corporate shafting our current governor has promoted through our state. There are many MANY more that support you and pray the Supreme Court will be fair and just and decide this company has gone too far. .

  • It’s incorrect for Vermont Gas to say that “a handful of people” want to “obstruct a pipeline eagerly awaited by Vermont families and businesses.” People all over the United States are doing everything they can to stop fracked gas pipelines. Some European countries have banned fracking altogether, as has Vermont’s legislature. It is a handful of people that have filed the legal challenges to Vermont Gas, but they are backed (and helped in various ways) by hundreds and hundreds—perhaps thousands—of Vermonters, each doing what we can to stop this mistake before it causes permanent harm to ourselves, our neighbors, our lands, or the earth’s precious supply of water.

  • VGAS has had three years to explore an alternative route rather than through our public park. Large corporations seem to expect they have priority. Since there is already a utility running through this area, by law they too cannot use that same space. This park was donated to the town in good faith it would be used for recreation, education or a school. We need to keep this area pristine and green and safe from fossil fuels.

  • Lawrence Shelton

    I first engaged in this pipe fight 9 months ago now. Looking back, I’m sort of embarrassed that it took me so long. VGS wants to make it sound as if we are just a very few individuals in Hinesburg in opposition to them. That could not be further from the truth.
    Hundreds of Vermonters are actively engaged in opposition and thousands of Vermonters support us. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Look at ‘#NoDAPL’, look at forest fires across our drought ridden South East. Look at global scientific evidence… you can stick your fingers in your ears up to the second knuckle and still not drown out the noise rising against the murder of a perfectly good little planet.
    Speaking of icebergs, one of the dangers of rapid acceleration in climate change comes with the melting of our polar regions. This melting, just like fracking, is releasing more and more methane (the stuff we call natural gas) which, as a ‘green house’ heat trapping agent, is over 100 times more potent than carbon.

  • There are many things to consider when thinking the VGS pipeline. One – it is infrastructure for transporting a fracked gas that the majority of Vermonters do not want. That is why we have a ban on fracking in our state. Two – natural gas is NOT a clean energy. It is mainly composed of methane which is as bad if not worse for the atmosphere than coal. Three – natural gas is NOT cheaper than oil right now and it will get much more expensive when and if this pipeline is finished and the rate payers start paying the $134 million dollars the company is allowed to recoup from them. Four – it would be outrageous for the court to allow VGS to begin drilling in Geprags Park while there is a case pending that challenges the companies right to take the easement by eminent domain.

  • While there are a vast number of people opposed to this and all pipelines, it is not a popularity contest. These decisions must be decided on facts, not the possible harm to a for profit company. Remember the Emperors New Clothes. It only takes one to be right – don’t fall for the hyperbole of the company and look at the facts.

  • Robert Hyams

    Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and cost savings….these are two major tenants that Vermont Gas uses to justify construction of the pipeline. If they are not valid, then the completion and operation of pipeline needs to be questioned, whether the pipeline is 5% or 95% competed. ‘Sunk costs’ are not a justification.

    These questions sound like more than a “last-ditch effort” as Vermont Gas contends.

    Vermont Gas and Public Service Board should look at current science and market conditions to substantiate their claims of public benefit.

    • What a predicament! (Canadian owned) Vermont Gas has put All Current Vermont Gas customers on the hook for Millions. Overrun, poor planning, safety Carelessness, destruction of rare plants, disregard from swamp neighbors. These are just a few of the problems. I

  • I participated in the demonstration in Montpelier yesterday that was part of the national day of protest again the Dakota Access pipeline and in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux. Several hundred people showed up, the most I have seen in the protests I’ve attended against the VGS Addison pipeline. There were other protests yesterday too so the claim that only a few folks oppose the pipeline and many are waiting expectantly for natural gas service to mot appear accurate to me. The whole thing was a bad idea from the beginning and it’s time to stop throwing more money at it.

  • Andrew Simon

    If there were really only a “handful” of people opposed to the Enbridge/Gaz Metro/VGS fracked gas pipeline, it would have been completed long ago. I have been fighting this project for years now, along with thousands of Vermonters. The wave of fossil fuels has already passed by. The future is with conservation, renewable energy and rethinking our energy systems. Move over, VGS dinosaurs. We have better ideas.

  • Jennifer Vyhnak

    I believe Geprags Park is protected from condemnation because its use AS A PARK is a prior public use. (A law decided by the Supreme Ct in 1928.) So this appears to be an error in the article. Also, “Think Globally, Act Locally”. I support intelligent energy sources, earth and people friendly. Natural Gas is an outmoded, dinosaur energy on its way to extinction right now. People all over the world are fighting this destructive monster of an energy source wherever they live. Our line in the sand is GEPRAGS PARK.

  • Cynthia Hendel

    VT Gas is lining up as many gas customers as it can to pay for this big, fracked-gas pipeline pushing down from Canada.

    The aim of Canadian parent company, Gaz Metro, is to use the state of Vermont as its “energy platform for the Northeast.” –And all the little VT Gas customers along the way will get to pay it. Charges are set to appear on their monthly bills for over thirty years as investors reap profits for decades.

    People are learning the truth. Many people are refusing to sign up for this. And many are resisting the takeover of public and private land for this dirty fuel.

    Stopping predatory pipelines that carry climate-killing fracked gas is the goal of more than just a “handful” of Vermonters. This is a movement of widespread resistance. It stretches across the state, the country, and around the world. The truth matters.

    • Melanie Peyser

      All that frantic effort to sign up customers without success is more proof that this project never made sense. DPS and VGS dismissed market projections re: fuel prices. Now they want to say VGS can’t control the market. Same was true for construction costs. VGS and DPS poopooed usefulness of market data. Even VGS’s management consultants pointed out that flaw yet VGS and DPS soldiered on to push though an ecomically an environmentally disastrous project. The 4 customers VGS claims are in a rush to get piped gas already have it via trucked CNG. It’s only because VGS and DPS blocked it that such delivery to residential customers isn’t available. This project was and is over-priced, obsolete and unnecessary. It’s time for VGS’s investors to cough up the money for this ill-conceived, purely private venture. Vermonters don’t need this pipe and shouldn’t have to pay for it. If it’s such a good deal investors would be happy to pay and still reap profits.

  • Terence Cuneo

    It’s as plain as day that now is the time to leave fracked gas behind. It was heralded as a “bridge fuel” but is no such thing: it’s neither cheaper nor cleaner than other major fossil fuel alternatives such as oil. There’s almost nothing to be said in favor of it.

  • Mary Martin

    VT Gas spokesperson, Beth Parent stated that only a small number of individuals are preventing the gas from flowing through the pipeline.

    I am one of thousands of Vermonters who oppose this fracked gas pipeline and the numbers keep growing all across the world.

    VT Gas has no one to blame but themselves for this botched project. I believe they need to refer to Healey’s First Law of Holes, “When you are in one, stop digging.” by way of explaining what a deep hole they’ve dug in this State.

    They have attempted to cut corners in every aspect, from permitting to safety violations. Does anybody remember when this was a $50 Million project? VT Gas is in over their heads and they need to stop digging (figuratively and literally).

  • The voters of VT declared awhile ago, we all wanted VT to work toward less dependence on fossil fuels and to focus on renewable energy – building a pipeline to carry natural gas through a park is NOT renewable energy last time I checked. Please base your decisions on facts and science. The park is protected from condemnation because its use AS A PARK is a prior public use. (This is according to settled law decided by the Supreme Ct in 1928.) Once something like this is done, there is irreparable damage to land, wildlife, water and air. Hinesburg can’t go out and just find another 88 acres to turn into parkland.

  • I feel a couple simple facts sum things up:

    FACT – Vermonters want the state to become less dependent on fossil fuels and move forward with renewable energy.
    FACT – a pipeline carrying natural gas is not renewable energy
    FACT – The park is protected from condemnation because its use AS A PARK is a prior public use.

    Pretty simple really. This is all the land we have left – there are other options.

    Please stand up for the land, the air, the water, the wildlife – think of the message you send your children.

    • Don’t forget that the Vermont legislature banned fracking in Vermont.

    • Fact:Monkton,Vermont voted to ban #Fracking. When I voted to ban Fracking, it was not so Canadians can destroy Alberta to suck fossil fuel out of the ground and send it through Not To, our town.

  • Melanie Peyser

    VGS can spin Hinesburg resident’s objection to lifting the automatic stay on construction during the appeals period as a last ditch effort, but the public knows the truth: this is the cumalative effect of all VGS’s financial mismanagement, construction problems, prior half truths, and regulatory delay catching up. VGS has been pretending that there was and would be demand for years knowing full well that just four large “industrial customers” would benefit, and that’s only because residential customers would be forced to subsidize their low rates. The truth is now out: VGS has only built 1/2 the residential network in Middlenbury b/c there isn’t adequate demand. It hasn’t built anything in Vergennes nor did it ever intend to serve Vergennes this heating season. Cabot hasn’t hired anyone new with any of savings from nearly $100,000 in efficiency benefits families aren’t getting. This was never for the public. There is no rush except that VGS is scared of what else will come to light.

  • Connecticut recently canceled new natural gas pipelines in favor of renewables. See: http://ripr.org/post/connecticut-energy-decision-places-renewable-projects-over-gas-pipelines

  • VGS still holding the state and it’s residents hostage to their bad planning and the state keeps falling for it. Remember that old saying “lack of planning on your end does NOT constitute a panic on my end”. Time for the state to get some kahunas and hold VGS to what is right and what is right is to let the court have its due process. I like how VGS says if the courts say no we will abandon or remove the pipe……total lack of respect for the land and it’s endowment. The point is it shouldn’t be there anyhow, find another route.

  • The regulatory process regarding this pipeline has been flawed at best and corrupt at worst. The Public Service Board, along with the Department of Public Service has allowed VT Gas to disregard the rules from the very beginning of this project. But Geprag’s Park is bigger than that. It could set a dangerous precedent regarding eminent domain. Donated land that was generously given to a town for public good is protected from condemnation per a previous Supreme Court ruling.
    Thank you, Hinesburg residents, for finding a loophole VT Gas may finally not be able to crawl out of and the state regulators cannot ignore.
    After 3 + years of questions, and valid concerns regarding this entire project and how it was vetted and how it will be paid for, would it be harmful to anyone but VT Gas if we waited for the Supreme Court’s ruling? I for one, stand on the side of respect for donated land and the law over the bottom lines and shareholders of Gas Metro and VT Gas