By K.B. Sherman, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Of the ten articles on the warrant for the Nov. 9 Shrewsbury Special Town Meeting, perhaps the most contentious was one that would have asked the selectmen to ban any pipeline carrying “fracked” gas through the town. A proposed 125-mile pipeline project, Access Northeast, is being developed by National Grid, Eversource Energy, and Spectra Energy to complement an existing pipeline that runs from New Jersey to Maine. About 400 of the approximately 740 area property owners who could be directly affected are in Shrewsbury. Algonquin Gas Transmission would be the operator. Local opposition to the proposed pipeline generated a petition submitted to the Board of Selectmen bearing more than 100 signatures, enough to place it on the town meeting warrant.
“Fracking,” or hydraulic fracturing, is a process by which petroleum products are released from underground rock formations through the injection into the rock of chemical-laced water under high pressure. Proponents claim it is a safe and inexpensive way to release gas and oil. Opponents claim it is dangerous to nearby water supplies and wildlife and can even cause earthquakes.
Bryan R. Moss, an environmentalist and Precinct 8 Town Meeting member who has organized Sustainable Shrewsbury Citizens Network, first spoke in favor of the pipeline ban. He claimed that over 400 land owners would be directly affected, that towns like trend-setting Amherst, Mass. oppose such a project, that there is no short-term need for more natural gas, that renewable energy sources should be used instead, and that such dangers as “burning tap water” and methane toxicity were likely under this plan. He urged, instead, that wind power and solar energy be used to increase power supplies.
Next, John Bonsall, a representative of Algonquin spoke, noting that a gas line extension would serve the needs of the area past the next six to seven years. He said that gas supply reliability and redundancy were important, especially in light of the proposed closing of four local power plants: Salem Coal; Vermont Yankee; Pilgrim; and Britain Point in Fall River – all within the next two years. All told, 32 megawatts (MW) of power generation will be lost, he said, about 13 percent of the area total.
Bonsall claimed that 2,400 new wind turbines would be needed to replace 32MW lost, while just 15MW is now being produced by Berkshire Wind windmills. He further said that 17,900 acres of solar panels would be needed to replace lost power while all of Shrewsbury covers only 14,000 acres. Worse, he noted, is that wind and solar power work only when the weather cooperates.
A number of voters then had questions and comments, both pro and con. These dealt with safety, proper use of fossil fuels, sending a message to their children, alleged deception by both sides of the argument, so-called “green fracking,” a plea to be more “green,” the claim that hundreds of town residents oppose this pipeline, and that pipeline proponents “lie.” Others claimed that past gas leaks in their neighborhood had been dangerous and that fossil fuels in general were to be avoided in favor of renewable energy sources.
After much debate, the question was moved by a voter in Precinct 7, with a majority needed for passage. After a voice vote the moderator ruled it had been defeated, but a gas opponent demanded a standing vote. The result was 30 for the ban and 131 against and the motion was declared defeated.