Apply Practically

By Guest Contributor

We wish to address serious factual inaccuracies in Zach Drennen ’13.5’s April 25 column “Middlebury Finds a New Pipeline to Protest.” First, a clarification of terms: Zach, you mislead readers by describing the product transported by this pipeline as “natural gas.” Conventionally drilled natural gas is not without its own problems, but fracked gas, which this pipeline will carry, poses even more serious concerns. There is a wealth of easily available scientific information about the especially destructive process of horizontal hydraulic fracturing, so we will dwell on it briefly here. You claim the “natural” gas that this pipeline will carry is safer and more environmentally friendly than oil. Fracked gas, however, is extracted by shooting 596 known chemicals — carcinogens included — into the ground. Companies that use fracking techniques are exempt from the Clean Air and Water Acts, meaning that the millions of gallons of toxic wastewater that they produce can flow back into water supplies unregulated. It is hypocritical for Vermont and for the College to support a pipeline that would enable an increase in fracking, since it contradicts both a statewide fracking moratorium and the College’s commitment to environmental sustainability.

Even setting aside the obvious short and long-term environmental impacts of the pipeline and concerns about the undemocratic nature of the Public Service Board process, your economic pro-pipeline argument is, plain and simply, false. According to the maps included in Vermont Gas’s petition to the Public Service Board, only two towns, Middlebury and Vergennes, are slated for gas distribution for home and business use. Even within these towns, Vermont Gas has not been forthcoming about how close residences and businesses must be to the pipeline in order to receive access and who would cover the considerable expense of connecting to it.

In addition, Vermont Gas’s purported cost savings for this limited number of potential customers is based on one report from November 2012 when gas prices were near historic post-2008 recession lows. A more recent copy of the same fuel price report indicated a 28 percent increase in gas prices since that time and a projected 40 percent increase within the next two years. Considering that residential distribution would not begin until at least 2017, it is difficult to believe that customers’ savings would be substantial, certainly not large enough to offset the $66.6 million that Vermont ratepayers will be responsible for contributing to the project. Indeed, some Vermonters are already experiencing undue economic burden because of the pipeline; residents of Monkton had to raise their property taxes in order to pay for legal representation, simply to get Vermont Gas to address basic safety concerns about installing the pipeline close to a high traffic road. If affected landowners want to petition for the pipeline not to pass through their farms, gardens and homes, they, too, will have to pay substantial legal fees in order advocate for themselves as stakeholders in the process.

The inaccuracies in your article make it clear that you have not spoken with community members, many of whom have done extensive research on this project. If you had attended even one hearing, town forum or community meeting, or if you had read the numerous op-eds in the Addison Independent, you would reconsider your claim that “the benefits of this project far and away exceed the costs.” As your opinion does not reflect those expressed by community members in public forums, we wonder which Vermont homeowners you think you are speaking for.

We wish also to dispel the notion that we are anti-pipeline just for the sake of being anti-something. We agree that inaction is not an option; Vermonters need access to cheaper energy, and we see the need for an energy transition as an opportunity to benefit the local economy. Instead of spending $66.6 million to fund a pipeline that will create an estimated 20 out-of-state jobs, we could demand that Vermont Gas — the leading provider of weatherization services in the state — invest a similar amount in weatherizing local homes and businesses, which would create hundreds of in-state jobs and provide guaranteed cost savings over the short and long terms.

Thank you for raising your concerns and giving us the opportunity to elaborate on our understanding of the situation, an understanding informed by our conversations with dozens of Addison County residents over the past six months. Their concern about the economy, the environment, their safety and their livelihoods has inspired us to urge the College to reverse its misguided position. For those who wish to learn more, we invite you to attend this Friday’s community pipeline opposition meeting at Ilsley Public Library at 7 p.m.

CAILEY CRON ’13.5 is from Franklin, Tenn. and ANNA SHIREMAN-GRABOWSKI ’15.5 is from Bear Lake, Michigan