With New England facing “the highest natural gas prices on planet Earth,” at least one gas company in Massachusetts is being forced to turn away customers looking for natural gas service, according to a recent article on GazetteNet.com.

Berkshire Gas Co. has announced that it can no longer accept new natural gas customers in Franklin County, and an additional moratorium for customers in Hampshire County is expected in 2015, the article states. “The problem is the distribution system is literally choked,” Chris Farrell, spokesman for Berkshire Gas Co., told GazetteNet.

National Public Radio has also reported recently on the natural gas shortage in New England, stating that utilities in New England are raising electricity rates of 30 percent to 50 percent, making the region’s prices some of the highest in the history of the continental United States. The problem, according to NPR is that natural gas pipelines cannot meet the needs of both homeowners and power plants. “New England, this winter, based on what’s been recently trading, is likely to have the highest natural gas prices on planet Earth,” Taff Tschamler, chief operating officer of energy supplier North American Power, told NPR.

NPR reports that natural gas for January delivery is trading at nearly $19 per million BTUs. “Gas in Japan, which relies entirely on imported gas and often has the world’s highest prices, is forecast to cost less than $18 this winter,” NRP reported. “Big pipelines in New England are on the drawing board, but they won’t be built until 2018 at the earliest — and that’s only if they don’t get swamped by local opposition.”

The natural gas shortage could affect Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, which taps into the same pipeline as Berkshire Gas. Company spokeswoman Sheila Doiron told GazetteNet that a lack of capacity might affect its ability to accept new customers in Northampton and Easthampton. “We’re very tight in our Northampton-Easthampton area and concerned enough to assemble a team to evaluate it over the next couple of weeks,” Doiron told GazetteNet.

The natural gas moratoriums would have a crippling effect on the Pioneer Valley’s ability to recruit new and retain existing businesses, and might curb business expansion, economic development experts warn. “It’s a very big deal,” Allan W. Blair, president and CEO of the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts, told GazetteNet. “It’s one of those insidious background problems many people don’t understand. It will have a major effect on our ability to attract new investment here.”

A number of projects are on the drawing boards that could provide long-term relief should they make it through the regulatory process, according to the article. One of those is Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP’s plan for a new 177-mile pipeline across northern Massachusetts, which has run into intense opposition. “We can’t afford to bring more fossil fuels into the state and still meet our global warming solutions that are subject to statutory laws,” Jane Winn, executive director of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, told GazetteNet, adding, “Natural gas is not clean. It’s spewing methane from the fracking fields. Massachusetts just doesn’t need it.”

To read the GazetteNet article, click here.

To read the National Public Radio article, click here.