New England’s governors say they are proposing new natural gas pipelines to better serve the region’s consumers and businesses, but the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) says the initiative came from the gas industry itself, which stands to make billions of guaranteed dollars, according to a recent report by New Hampshire Public Radio. 

“There’s a general hostility to really any public involvement in the process, it’s a very insider process,” Christophe Courchesne, staff attorney with the environmental advocacy group, told NHPR. “And we also see that they are inviting some people to the party, they’re inviting the pipeline companies and the large gas and electric utilities.”

“For Courchesne the real issue is the region really only has a natural gas supply problem during a few days of the year,” NHPR reports. “He thinks it could be solved with some market tweaks, like letting liquefied natural gas coming from tankers into Boston Harbor take up the slack on the coldest days of the winter, or investing more in energy efficiency. “A number the market participants who could offer that service are coming in and saying we could do this for much cheaper than building a multi-billion dollar pipeline across the region,” he told NHPR. “In fact there’s a substantial risk we’ll be over-investing in this infrastructure when we could meet that need with smaller bites of the apple.”

Currently there are at least two pipeline projects planned for the region, according to NHPR: the Algonquin Incremental Market Project, which would deliver 400 million to 600 million cubic feet of natural gas per day and the Tennessee Gas Pipeline which would carry somewhere between 1 billion and 2.2 billion cubic feet per day.

“Courchesne’s group is not the only one making these claims: Environment Northeast, another group concerned about climate change, put out a paper claiming much the same last month,” NHPR reported. “And Vermont’s Governor Peter Shumlin has said he believes the region should be cautious about overbuilding infrastructure and getting stuck paying it off even if it’s not being used.”

The Hartford Courant also reported on CLF’s claims of behind-the-scenes maneuvering by public officials and natural gas industry participants, as revealed in a series of e-mails that were publicly released at CLF’s request. “The emails, reviewed by The Hartford Courant, show officials working closely with the energy industry on details but selectively releasing information — withholding two consultant reports, for example,” the Courant reported.

The newspaper published an excerpt from an e-mail from Ben D’Antonio, a lawyer for the New England States Committee on Electricity, to Thomas L. Welch, the chairman of Maine's Public Utilities Commission. It reads, “I am less worried about the Canadians' strategy and more suggesting that deal strategy be formulated behind closed doors. The court of public opinion can be fickle and recalcitrant.”

“The Conservation Law Foundation said the emails reveal a failure to consider alternatives to the pipeline and the power line,” The Courant wrote. “Many environmental and energy organizations in the region have called for more alternatives to be analyzed alongside the state's proposed infrastructure projects. One alternative, proposed by NRG Energy, would involve working through existing markets to contract higher capacity through existing pipeline proposals.”

Seth Kaplan, the Conservation Law Foundation's head of policy and climate advocacy told the Courant, “The worst case scenario here is that billions of dollars of customer money gets spent on building these pipelines, and it doesn’t actually reduce the prices, which is a very real possibility. There will be still the same problem and now we will have built out our fossil fuel import infrastructure … and we will not have solved the problem.”

To read the New Hampshire Public Radio article, click here.

To read the Hartford Courant article, click here.