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In the past, “natural” gas was widely viewed as a “bridge fuel”, less polluting when burned than oil and coal, a bridge until renewable energy sources were more affordable and available.  But solid research over the last 6 years shows that hydraulically fractured (fracked) gas (1) has a larger greenhouse gas footprint than oil and coal due to methane leaks, thus contributing more to climate change than other fuels and (2) results in serious health and water quality impacts in the communities where it is extracted.  Also, prices are projected to increase as supplies decline and exports increase.

 

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Lebanon Residents tell City Council, “No Pipeline!”

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Last night, more than 50 people, including a group of Lebanon High School students, rallied on the steps of Lebanon City Hall to send city government the message, “No Pipeline Here!” Most then walked inside to deliver over 1,100 signatures, all from Lebanon residents and students calling on the City Council to take every legal and regulatory action at its disposal to prevent a natural gas storage facility, regasification plant, and pipeline from proceeding.

a6010326-f94f-443c-baff-1e08f1d310f9Lebanon High School junior Celia Barnett, who led the rally and later addressed the City Council, said, “Until I learned about the petition I was unaware of the gas pipeline that was planned for my community. I was shocked to find out about this dirty and dangerous pipeline. Installing this pipeline will make it much more difficult to move towards renewable energies in the future. I ended up immediately wanting to make a difference.”

As Celia concluded her remarks, a classmate presented a petition signed by 115 Lebanon High School students to the council.  Next, Chuck Manns, read out the petition, signed by 1059 Lebanon residents who called on the City Council to “take every legal and regulatory action at its disposal to deny the natural gas depot/pipeline”.  Mr. Manns, a resident of the Trues Brook neighborhood, which is closest to the proposed site of the storage tanks then addressed safety concerns related to trucking liquefied natural gas (LNG) to the proposed site on a congested main artery through West Lebanon.

063ad0d7-3f0a-4ed4-a40e-79c4710f1d1cSeveral other Lebanon residents and the chair of the Hartford, VT Selectboard made powerful statements to the City Council.  Dr. Eric Bronstein, a family physician and resident of Lebanon, addressed the public health impacts of gas extracted by fracking then noted that gas worsens climate change.  “A lot could go wrong with this pipeline, and likely would go wrong, based on this industry’s track record. But this issue is way bigger than our backyard,” said Dr. Bronstein. “We need to do better than just asking ourselves what could go wrong. We need to ask ourselves what can we do right for the safety of our neighborhoods, our families, our streets, our businesses, our state, and this planet we care about.”

Sarah Riley, a member of Sustainable Lebanon, the grassroots volunteer group that organized the petition drive and rally, pointed out “troubling indications” about the safety track record of Liberty Utilities, the company that proposes to build the gas project in Lebanon.  She drew attention to a report prepared for Liberty by consulting engineers in August 2015, and noted that specific safety concerns remain unstudied by the company more than three years later.  She also noted that Liberty had kept that “fatal flaw analysis” shielded from public view until spring of 2018 when the Public Utilities Commission finally required release of the document following a citizen request under New Hampshire’s right-to-know law.  Ms. Riley pointed out that the PUC’s Safety Division, in assessing Liberty a $20,000 fine in a gas project in Keene, cited the company’s “not appropriately following the most minimal of federal safety regulations, Liberty’s inability to properly follow its own written procedures and maintaining documentation of the steps being completed per the applicable procedures…”  Liberty was fined $54,000 in 2016 and 2017 for failing to monitor leaks in its existing pipelines.

Phil Bush, another member of Sustainable Lebanon, presented a request that the City Council set up a task force dedicated to finding ways that the city of Lebanon can prevent the pipeline from being built. According to Mr. Bush’s statement, the task force should include citizen participation from the start and consider opportunities for the City Council to prevent pipeline construction, such as developing an amendment to the City’s zoning ordinance, opposing the special exemption from the zoning board that the pipeline requires, and supporting local businesses in rejecting the pipeline proposal. Sustainable Lebanon suggests that the City also explore ways that it can partner with other municipalities, such as Keene and towns along the Granite Bridge route, to oppose the pipeline, and join cities across the state in passing legislation to stop construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure.

Last March, Liberty Utilities secured a gas distribution franchise from the PUC, which provides it a license to build an LNG storage depot and regasification facility and to construct a pipeline through Lebanon and Hanover streets, despite objection from thousands of residents and both municipalities.  Liberty would need local zoning permits before it can start construction.

Lebanon City Councilor Clifton Below told the PUC at a hearing In September, 2017 that the city does not support expanding natural gas. He testified “to make clear to the Commission that our current Master Plan, which is the official policy of the City adopted by both the Planning Board and the City Council, does not support the expanded use of natural gas. It’s not consistent with our goals to move more quickly to reduce our carbon footprint as a city and to develop renewable energy.”

Phil Bush said that catastrophic climate events have convinced Sustainable Lebanon that we have to move quickly to curtail the warming caused by burning fossil fuels. And many agree: a poll of NH residents in October 2016 showed that 67% favor renewable energy to 24% favoring natural gas.

“Many people think natural gas is green, but it’s not good for the environment,” according to Sustainable Lebanon’s Jon Chaffee. “It is a fossil fuel, and it causes even more global warming than the other fossil fuels now used for heating in Lebanon, because gas leaks up into the atmosphere where it has a greenhouse effect 80 times that of CO2”.

Chaffee, who recently organized a forum for Lebanon business leaders on renewable energy alternatives, also said, “The pipeline can be stopped if there are no customers. If local businesses are sensitive to public opinion and hear how strongly the public wants to see Lebanon move away from fossil fuels, we are hoping they will refuse to contract for pipeline gas.” Liberty is required by the PUC to obtain commitments from 50% of the customers needed to support the pipeline before it can start construction.

“We hope our City Council will respect public opinion and our Master Plan principles and take further action to stop this pipeline,” says Sarah Riley of Sustainable Lebanon. She adds, “To that end, I think the best first action the Council can take will be to set up the pipeline Task Force as we have urged them to do.”

Thanks to Stuart Blood of Energy and Climate – Upper Valley for this report.

Energy and Climate – Upper Valley is a group comprising community members and organizations, including representatives from the New Hampshire Sierra Club Upper Valley Group and the Academy for Systems Change.

For any questions feel free to email us at: ecuv@riseup.net

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#Fracking4Plastics – a link that drives plastic and climate pollution

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Shale gas and fracking is creating a plastics renaissance in the U.S.

It is increasingly clear that the plastics industry in the United States has reaped massive hidden benefits from the environmentally destructive fracking boom. Hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) injects large quantities of fresh water, sand and toxic chemicals under high pressure to release oil and gas that are tightly held in rock layers. Read More

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Sustainable Lebanon To Present Petition to City Council, Rally on City Hall Steps

43691148_2124896364494589_7231442144286736384_oOn October 17, at 6:30 pm, concerned residents will rally on the steps of Lebanon City Hall to send city government the message, “No Pipeline Here!” They will then go inside at 7:00 pm to deliver to the City Council a petition signed by over 1,100 Lebanon residents. The petition, circulated by Sustainable Lebanon, asks the City Council to take every legal and regulatory action at its disposal to prevent the natural gas storage facility and pipeline from proceeding.

Last March, Liberty Utilities secured a gas distribution franchise from the NH Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which provides it a license to build a fracked gas storage depot and construct a pipeline through Lebanon and Hanover streets, despite objection from thousands of residents and both municipalities. Catastrophic climate events along with concerns about health and safety have convinced Sustainable Lebanon that we have to move quickly to stop burning fossil fuels.

WHO: Lebanon residents who oppose the pipeline, including the grassroots volunteer group Sustainable Lebanon.

WHAT: A rally with concerned residents on the steps of City Hall, followed by a petition delivery to City Council with over 1,100 signatures.

WHEN: October 17, Rally 6:30 pm; City Council Meeting, 7:00 pm

WHERE: Lebanon City Hall, 51 N. Park Street, Lebanon, NH

WHY: The fracked gas pipeline proposed would threaten the health and safety of Lebanon residents and exacerbate climate change. Lebanon residents oppose the pipeline and are calling on City Council to take every legal and regulatory action to stop it.

Sustainable Lebanon, a grassroots volunteer group founded in 2017, inspires and supports sustainable practices in Lebanon – working with residents, businesses, nonprofits, and the municipality, in a way that is inclusive, coordinated, and focused on a positive long-term vision.

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Lebanon Gas Depot Fatal Flaw Analysis Revealed

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A two-and-a-half-year-old report, only recently released to the public, sheds new light on safety concerns for Liberty Utilities’ proposed liquefied natural gas storage depot near the city landfill in West Lebanon.

In a fatal flaw analysis memo prepared for Liberty in August 2015, engineers at the consulting firm Sanborn Head concluded from initial “conceptual level thermal radiation modeling” that an “exclusion zone” surrounding a potential fire at the facility would barely fit within the site’s boundaries, as required by federal safety codes. However, the report also cautioned that additional computer modeling required for the project could result in an exclusion zone that extends beyond the property’s boundaries, one of which is Route 12A.

The exclusion zone predicted by the thermal radiation model is shown on the map above by the red circle.  According to the legend, the blue circle represents “the nearest point located outside the owner’s property line that can be used for an outdoor assembly by groups of 50 or more persons”.

Significantly the Sanborn Head fatal flaw analysis notes that there had been no vapor dispersion modeling, which is necessary to determine the boundaries of the “50% LEL exclusion zone”.  LEL is the Lower Explosive Limit, which is the lowest concentration, by percentage, of a gas or vapor in air that is capable of producing a flash of fire in the presence of an ignition source.  The memo goes on to “strongly recommend” that vapor dispersion modeling be done as soon as possible, “since it is our experience that keeping the 50% LEL exclusion zone within the property boundaries is typically more challenging than keeping the 10,000 BTU/hr-ft2 exclusion zone [the red circle] within the property boundaries”.  The memo mentions some mitigation measures — insulated concrete, vapor fences, water spray systems — that could be considered if the 50% LEL goes beyond the property line.

Of course, we have no way of knowing if Liberty has followed their engineers’ recommendation and completed the vapor dispersion modeling.  We also don’t know if bedrock or wetlands will further constrain the siting of the facility, as the memo noted might be the case.

The Sanborn Head fatal flaw analysis was one set of information that Liberty Utilities had previously redacted to keep it hidden from public scrutiny.  Liberty claimed protection for the report and a great deal of additional material, citing an exemption under the New Hampshire right-to-know law for commercial information.  The Public Utilities Commission allowed the material to remain redacted for almost a year after citizen intervenors Ariel Arwen and Jon Chaffee objected to the abuse of that statute. Finally, in its March 5 order granting Liberty a gas distribution franchise for Lebanon and Hanover, the PUC ruled that the company had to release much of the redacted information, including the fatal flaw analysis.  If the two citizens representing themselves before the PUC without an attorney had not forced the issue, the information in the memo would never have seen the light of day.

And that’s why we stay vigilant.

Lebanon Gas Depot Fatal Flaw Analysis Revealed

Also see:

Liberty Utilities gas franchise approved (03/06/2018)

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Why is Liberty Utilities pushing its gas on Lebanon?

Liberty Utilities has plans to build a fracked gas distribution system in Lebanon and Hanover, starting with construction of a depot in Lebanon to store compressed natural gas (CNG) delivered by truck.  They plan to later expand the depot to include multiple 60,000 gallon tanks holding liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Why does Liberty persist in pushing their project when it has virtually no community support?  The answer to that question may lie in the regional context of aggressive expansion by the gas industry. That expansion is being driven by international energy conglomerates, and it has little to do with the “public interest” that regulated public utilities are supposed to serve.

The Canadian company that owns Liberty Utilities has been a partner in a project to construct a major interstate pipeline to deliver fracked gas from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts.  The developers of that pipeline have argued that New England needs greater gas pipeline capacity to cover the region’s energy needs during the coldest weather.  However, the developers have sought and been granted approval to send that gas on an existing pipeline to terminals in the Canadian Maritimes, from where it will be exported overseas.  To win approval of federal regulators for the new infrastructure, the developers are required to justify the project based on “need”, which has traditionally been demonstrated by signed contracts with local gas utilities.  That’s where Liberty Utilities comes in, by signing a contract to buy gas from a pipeline in which its parent company has a financial interest.  Liberty and its parent can’t lose because the captive rate payers bear the risk of the gas utility’s investments.

Liberty Utilities is owned by Algonquin Power and Utilities Corp (APUC), one of Kinder Morgan’s partners in the Northeast Energy Direct (NED) pipeline project.  The NED pipeline was conceived to run through upstate New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, ending at the gas hub in Dracut, MA.  NED, along with Enbridge’s Access Northeast pipeline, was intended to supply fracked gas from Pennsylvania to the Canadian Martitimes for export overseas on LNG tankers.

To justify approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the projects needed to produce contracts from customers for the gas.  Liberty Utilities, in its capacity as a local gas company, signed an agreement to buy gas from NED.  In October 2015, the NH Public Utilities Commission approved the agreement.  Notably, the PUC’s order approving the agreement contained a “growth incentive”, which imposed penalties on the company if it failed to expand its gas sales substantially each year.

Kinder Morgan withdrew NED in 2016 due to lack of sufficient contracts.  Enbridge suspended Access Northeast in 2017 for the same reason.  That’s not the end of the story by any means, though.

Two separate LNG export terminal projects are moving forward in Nova Scotia.  If built, these terminals would liquefy fracked gas from Pennsylvania and export it to overseas destinations.  Gas is already being sent north from the hub in Dracut on the Maritime and Northeast Pipeline that until recently carried gas only south from Canada.  The export projects were conceived back when NED and Access Northeast were still on the table.  Now, the Trump administration’s commitment to unbridled fossil fuel development may prove to be a game changer for speculative projects like those.

Interstate pipeline developers, such as giants Kinder Morgan and Enbridge, and Liberty Utilities’ parent APUC, are required to demonstrate a “need” for new gas infrastructure before a project can gain approval from the FERC.  The justification for additional capacity has traditionally been provided by long-term contracts with local gas utilities.  However, Liberty Utilities has been part of a troubling new trend, where gas utilities that have become subsidiaries of pipeline companies sign contracts to buy gas from a pipeline that their parent company has invested in.

State-regulated utilities are legally guaranteed a profit on investments they make to provide service to their customers.  They will realize the profit even if the investment ultimately proves to be a poor bet.  When the contracts used to demonstrate the need for infrastructure expansion are between a pipeline developer and gas utilities that it owns, then there’s reason to think that  benefits of the transaction will be transferred away from the utilities’ captive rate payers to the developer, while the financial risks are offloaded in the other direction.  In that case, the developer and the utility have a mutual financial interest that may well be against the interests of rate payers and the public as a whole.  That mutual financial interest may also provide an incentive for the subsidiary utility to sign up for more pipeline capacity than its customers need.

Just that sort of too-cozy relationship came about between Liberty Utilities and its parent APUC with the NED pipeline, before the project was ultimately withdrawn for lack of sufficient customers.  NED is gone, but the gas industryhas not given up its plans to build major new pipelines into New England from the Marcellus region of Pennsylvania.  If enough expansion plans being pushed by local gas utilities are approved by state regulators, we can expect Kinder Morgan and Enbridge to come back with new plans for bigger pipelines.

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