What is the Access Northeast/Algonquin Gas Pipeline?

Spectra Energy has three planned Massachusetts pipeline expansion projects that would pump high-pressure fracked gas:

  • Access Northeast:
    • The Q1 Loop: a 30-inch high-pressure pipeline through nine towns: Medway, Bellingham, Franklin, Millis, Norfolk, Walpole, Sharon, Stoughton, and Canton. Sharon would have 4.7 miles of new pipeline.
    • The West Boylston Lateral: Milford, Medway, Upton, Grafton, Milbury, Sutton, Shrewsbury, Boylston, and West Boylston
    • The I-8 Loop: a 30-inch looping pipeline Braintree and Weymouth
    • The Acushnet Connector: a 24-inch greenfield pipeline Freetown and Acushnet
  • The Atlantic Bridge: Weymouth and Braintree
  • Algonquin Incremental Expansion (AIM): Westwood, Dedham, and West Roxbury, completed 12/16.

These projects involve

  • Stretches of new pipeline
  • New and expanded compressor stations: Weymouth, and Rehoboth
  • Metering and regulation stations in highly populated areas
  • More gas pumping through existing pipelines, increasing the pressure and therefore the danger of accidents and leaks
  • Storage tanks in Acushnet
  • New gas power plants: Salem, Brockton, Sandwich, and Medway

Why is it being built?

Money. This fracked gas could mean huge profits from gas transport for Spectra Energy and the potential to export gas to Europe for Canadian energy companies. As you can see in this Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail article, international markets want this pipeline built.

If you read Spectra’s promotional materials and reports for shareholders, you discover the kind of money they plan to make from pipelines.

I heard Spectra Energy was purchased by a Canadian company called Enbridge.

You’re right, the deal is working it’s way through the regulatory system. If successful, the purchase will create the largest energy infrastructure company in North America.

Do we need the gas?

The office of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey recently conducted a detailed study of the state’s projected natural gas needs. The study included worst-case scenarios, yet concluded that building new pipeline would be the most costly alternative for Massachusetts ratepayers. It would be cheaper to

  • Fix gas leaks
  • Manage demand through increasing LNG storage capacity
  • Increase conservation measures

Every year there are a few cold days that utilities can’t buy gas for home heating, and in anticipation of those days, utilities pre-purchase (and store) fuel to ensure that we don’t run out.

Who would pay for this new infrastructure?

Well, Spectra wanted us to, but our supreme court shut down their first scheme. A tariff on ratepayers was proposed to pay for this three-billion-dollar project. If allowed, for the next twenty years, Spectra would have reaped substantial profits by transmitting gas through pipelines funded by you.

Spectra is currently working on another way to fund the pipeline. We will keep you updated. Follow us on Facebook or sign up for our newsletter to stay informed.

If the Supreme Judicial Court ruled a “pipeline tax” illegal, what could happen?

Although in August 2016, the Conservation Law Foundation won their argument that the Court should strike down a mechanism where we would foot the bill for these projects, Spectra Energy has said that they plan to present the Legislature with another type of funding plan in the near future.

Why are so many people who heat with natural gas opposed to the pipeline?

It’s not for home heating, but to create electricity, which can be done more efficiently using other methods. Our system is built on fossil fuels, and we are using them as we transition to clean energy. However, it is urgent that we transition now, and new gas pipelines can prevent that.

Why are the claims of the pipeline lowering prices false?

Oil and gas prices depend on many factors, and can’t be predicted. However, at the December 1st presentation in Sharon, Spectra Energy representatives admitted that they cannot promise cost savings. When you combine this uncertainty with a likely increase in prices after export (see item 2), it is unlikely we will save money.

Why are they digging so much land if it is going alongside another pipeline?

The proposed gas pipeline will be larger and pump highly toxic fracked gas under high pressure, which increases health and safety risks. Pipelines like this one need a lot of clearing to install as well as maintenance. When you take into account the greater pressure, the dirtier gas, the bigger pipe, brand new tree cutting and clearing, and recent safety violations, this pipeline is very different from the one we have now.

There are a lot of leaks in our existing pipelines. Is this project going to address them?

No. The Access Northeast pipeline project won’t address the forty-nine current leaks in Sharon, which fall under the jurisdiction of BostonGas. The Access Northeast project is for the gas transmission pipelines, equivalent to the “gas highways” leading to big utility terminals as opposed to local roads leading to our homes.

There is no incentive for utility companies to repair these leaks as long as they deem them “not potentially explosive.” If you use natural gas at your house, you are already being charged for the utility companies’ waste. The Environmental Defense Fund notes “thousands of small gas leaks add up to a major climate threat,” mostly due to methane. There are also major health effects from these leaks.

Not only does this proposed pipeline not address these dangerous leaks, it has the potential to add more leaks in a system that doesn’t hold anyone accountable for them.

What about safety?

The Miami Herald reports that Spectra has a long history of pipeline incidents and worker safety issues. Recently two former Spectra inspectors have come forward accusing Spectra of safety and environmental violations, creating a culture of intimidation and retaliation for raising concerns.

Would our emergency service be able to handle an explosion?

No. They are instructed to call the utility company, which takes time (just think about your own calls to your utility company). Most often, they let the fireball burn itself out. You may have heard about this happening in the Porter Ranch Gas Leak.

How is methane gas harmful to our climate?

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the environmental costs of getting, moving, and using of natural gas are very high and include methane leakage, air pollution, construction and land disturbance, water pollution, and earthquakes.

The Natural Resources Defense Council shares the above concerns and states, “Americans shouldn’t have to trade their safe drinking water, clean air, climate, health or communities for energy.”

Clean Water Action has also posted similar concerns. Fracking uses enormous amounts of fresh water and leaves behind contaminated water.

Finally, methane contributes significantly more to global warming in the first twenty years than carbon dioxide.

How do we already meet electric generation needs without the pipeline?

Generators have backup systems based on many fuel sources. Due to energy efficiency programs, Massachusetts energy needs are decreasing even as the economy grows.

How can we reduce our energy consumption?

To start, get a free home energy audit through Mass Save.

On a larger scale, there’s a system called “demand response” (recommended by the AGO report) that asks large users of natural gas to defer their gas use to a low-demand time (for example, running their generators at night rather than during the day). This evens out the demand for gas and keeps the lights on; it encourages reducing use, because the large users get a break on their rates when they respond.

Why isn’t MA investing in clean renewable sources of energy?

Big oil and gas companies have showered our government leaders with a lot of campaign money to get their support for their projects and satisfy their shareholders. We need to show our leaders that we are paying attention, and show them that we demand change. Call Governor Baker today to let him know you want to invest in clean energy and not dirty gas pipelines.

Activists are working hard on legislative efforts to push Massachusetts to invest in wind, solar, and conservation. Mass Power Forward is one such effort.

Will the Town of Sharon get any money if the pipeline is constructed?

We’d get less than they want you to think, and we don’t even know how much that is! Like other communities in the Commonwealth with interstate pipeline, Sharon currently receives annually an ad valorem tax payment, which is based on the linear mileage within a municipality (i.e., x dollars per linear mile). If the ANE work is completed, the community would receive these taxes for the 4.6 miles through Sharon. In addition, like any landowner, the town would receive a payment if the pipeline route crosses any town-owned property. However, all pipeline companies immediately file for abatements after the pipeline facilities are put in-service, so revenues for the town are greatly exaggerated. One speaker described the difference with a comparison to driving a new car off the lot; once it’s out there, it’s worth a lot less.

What is the approval process for the pipeline project?

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is the federal agency that approves pipeline construction. Citizens are encouraged to file comments online. You will need the Algonquin Gas project’s docket number, which is PF16-1-000. Read these steps to comment.

In addition, you can contact Governor Baker and let him know that you would like him to rescind the tariff he’s proposing to cover the cost of these new pipelines. There are state permits that can stop the project even if FERC approves it.

What can landowners who oppose the project do?

You have the right to deny or rescind permission for Spectra to survey your land even if you already gave permission. Doing so is a separate process from negotiation of terms of easement. Print either the DENY PROPERTY ACCESS form or the RESCIND PROPERTY ACCESS from.

Make a copy for your records and send a copy to FERC: Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 888 First Street, NE, Room 1A, Washington, DC 20426. We highly recommend you also file a form with the local police because surveyors have been known to trespass even after these forms are filed.

Please let us know if you are a property abutter and what action you are taking. We’re here to help and have access to legal experts working on the issue.

What can towns that oppose the project do?

As a town resident, you can participate in Town Meeting and vote in favor of making Sharon a Green Community. When we lower our electricity use and invest in renewables, we demonstrate even more strongly that we don’t need the pipeline.

What can I do? I’m just one person.

Just by reading our FAQs you have educated yourself and taken the first step. Good job. The next step is to become directly involved. There’s a lot to do, but we CAN stop this project and help countless people throughout Massachusetts stay safe and achieve a vibrant healthy clean energy economy.

Take some small but important steps:

  • If you are an abutter, send your rescind or deny letter now.
  • If you haven’t already, send in your comments to FERC.
  • For general information about activities and events around this issue, join our listserv.

Demonstrate that we don’t need this gas. Get a home energy assessment through Mass Save and learn how to cut your energy consumption and costs.

A Timeline of Events

  • September: Sharon has its first local informational meeting about Access Northeast (ANE).
  • November: No Sharon Gas Pipeline (NSGP) forms to oppose ANE Q1 loop.
  • November: The Attorney General’s Office issues the Electric Reliability Study, which indicates that MA does not need the pipeline to meet electricity needs.
  • December 1: Spectra presents to Sharon’s board of selectmen (BOS), and NSGP alerts residents, who come out in force to ask questions.
  • January 31: After a strategic planning session with Claire Miller from Toxics Action Center (TAC), NSGP commits to opposing all new gas infrastructure in MA, targeting Spectra’s ANE.
  • April 7: NSGP hosts an informational pipeline forum, drawing almost 300 attendees to hear speakers from the Attorney General’s Office, the Conservation Law Foundation, the Dedham BOS, and StopNED. Watch video.
  • April 21: Kinder Morgan cancels the Northeast Energy Direct (NED) pipeline project.
  • April 27: NSGP joins the Mass Power Forward coalition.
  • May 2–3: At town meeting, NSGP’s Article 24, the citizens petition against the pipeline, passes nearly unanimously.
  • May 24: The Sharon BOS hosts other Q1 BOS members to discuss a municipal coalition.
  • July 14–18, 2016: Members of NSGP participate in and organize Sharon’s section of the People over Pipelines March. The Unitarian Church of Sharon Social Justice Committee and Boy Scout Troop 95 host overnight marchers as they march through Sharon on their way to the State House
  • August 3: NSGP and partners meet with Congressman Kennedy to educate him about ANE.
  • August 17: The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rules that the Pipeline tax is illegal.
  • November 5: Spectra announces the delay of ANE.
  • January 25: NSGP turns out for MPF Lobby Day at the State House, meeting with Representative Kafka, Senator Jim Timilty, and Senator Walter Timilty to press for clean energy legislation, resulting in sponsorship of many of the bills.
  • February 6: Synapse energy releases a report on NE’s shrinking need for natural gas.
  • March 21: NSGP, No Canton Gas Pipeline, and other members of the Mass Power Forward Coalition join forces to host a press and networking event to reveal the 400 businesses that spoke out against new gas pipeline infrastructure in MA. Watch video.
  • April 6: NSGP, SSC, and BOS host Green Communities Forum to inform and educate residents on benefits of Green Communities status, application process and necessary warrant articles.
  • June 29: Spectra announces they are withdrawing their project, and Access Northeast as we know it is dead!
  • February 7: New coalition emerges as a front for gas interests. Mass Coalition for Sustainable Energy is actually sponsored by major energy and utility companies seeking to build more gas pipelines in the area. Read about it in the Huffington Post.
  • February 14: NSGP | Clean Energy Now turns out for MPF Lobby Day at the State House, meeting with Representative Kafka, Senator Paul Feeney, and Senator Walter Timilty to press for clean energy legislation.
  • February 27: Sharon BOS vote to re-establish energy advisory committee. Silas Fyler, of NSGP | Clean Energy Now, appointed to serve on the committee.
  • March 3: NSGP | Clean Energy Now awarded the Judy Bonds Memorial Award for Outstanding Grassroots Activism at the 30th Annual Local Environmental Action Conference, Boston, MA.
  • May: Board decision to join forces with the Sustainable Sharon Coalition (SSC) as energy committee. Bi-weekly meetings shift to SSC monthly meetings.