Opinion: Trucking gas a better solution than building a pipeline
People in Addison County are beginning to notice increased truck traffic onour roads, particularly on the sleek new bridge that arches across LakeChamplain. People are grumbling about the number of trucks hauling compressednatural gas (CNG) to International Paper (IP), questioning the safety offlammables in motion, and asking whether the hundreds of Addison Countycitizens who spoke up in hearings in Middlebury and Shoreham in opposition tothe Vermont Gas Systems (VGS) proposal to build a pipeline to bring frackedgas to IP had really thought this through. ”Now look what we’ve got,”they are saying, “explosives on wheels.”
Of course, the pipe under Lake Champlain was not cancelled because of citizenprotests. IP bailed out of that deal because VGS cost estimatescontinually escalated until they reached the point where the plan no longermade financial sense to the company. The same pattern of budget estimatesbeing revised upward as the project “matures” continues today as the PSBdeliberates whether Phase I of the pipeline still makes financial sense tothe state. But I digress.
There are at least three reasons why it is better to transport the fossilfuels that we need today in trucks on existing roads than by installingexpensive new pipes underground and under our lakes and wetlands.
First, there is no measurable increased risk in delivering CNG by truckcompared to delivering fracked gas by a pipeline. A truck containing CNG issafer than the gasoline trucks that supply the gas stations that we accept asstill needed to fuel our cars. If a truck containing CNG were to leak as theresult of a collision, the cargo would not spill on the ground, but wouldrise and dissipate in the atmosphere. The amount of leakage is limited to thecapacity of the truck. When a pipeline as large as this one leaks, thepressure is so great that friction ignites it and explodes. There isvariation in the response time and, depending on the location of the leak,huge volumes of gas can flow through the system before a valve shuts it off.
Second, experts disagree about whether the economic benefits of the pipelinewill outweigh the cost. The $164-million and-counting spent on drilling under natural habitat and ditching though primefarmland, seizing rights-of-way by eminent domain, and bringing out-of-stateworkers to build a pipeline represent a big risk that will be carried on thebacks of Vermont ratepayers. It is not hard to list a range of “what-if”possibilities that would interrupt the supply or make it uneconomical. Theproject is speculative and even cruelly ironic, pulling in the wrongdirection when put in context with the fact that last year the state lead thecountry with the most solar jobs per capita. Which leads to the third reasonwhy trucks are better than pipes for fossil fuel delivery.
Unless we want to stand by and watch maple trees and the ski industry migratenorthward to Canada while tropical storms pound Brandon and Randolph, we needto end our reliance on fossil fuels. A pipeline is forever, or at least forcenturies. Technologies are changing. Five years ago, air-to-air heat pumpswere not viable in our climate, but now, due to new materials and designdevelopments, heat pumps are the cleanest cheapest way to heat most Vermonthomes (a bitter reality for current VGS customers paying the bills for thepipeline, finding themselves locked in to yesterday’s fuel bargain). Newdevelopments in hydrogen fuel cells are constantly in the news. It may not belong before this clean energy can be channeled for widespread use in homesand businesses. We can be almost certain that new technologies will be comingalong, eclipsing our current energy use patterns and bypassing infrastructurethat is no longer needed as Vermont moves toward the renewable energy futurethat Vermonters are demanding and the Legislature has mandated.
The trucks silhouetted on the bridge on their way to IP are a reminder thatCNG is our bridge fuel, literally rolling across bridges and roads, until a more climate-friendly technology comes online.
Bobbie Carnwath, Cornwall