Toby Talbot / AP Photo
Demonstrators protest outside a meeting of the Public Service Board on Monday in Montpelier. The board is holding technical hearings on a proposed natural gas pipeline in Vermont.
Vermont Gas Systems has reached an agreement with the state Agency of Natural Resources meant to minimize the impact of a proposed new pipeline on wetlands and other sensitive areas.
But environmentalists are still concerned that the pipeline will increase greenhouse gas emissions. Their concerns were on display outside a Montpelier hotel where the Public Service Board opened hearings on the pipeline project.
Waving mock “Wanted” posters branding Gov. Peter Shumlin and Vermont Gas executives as “climate criminals,” members of the Rising Tide Coalition called on the PSB to reject the pipeline expansion.
Rising Tide organizer Keith Brunner said the pipeline will carry a fossil fuel derived in part from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The drilling technique is banned in Vermont. It involves injecting water and chemicals under high pressure into the ground to release the gas trapped in shale formations.
“People are concerned about fracking. People are concerned about the impact on climate change that this would cause,” he said. “And people are also concerned about a process that isn’t accountable to our communities, and they feel that this is just being rubber-stamped and being imposed on our communities.”
In the hearing room, Vermont Gas officials made an economic argument in favor of the project. Eileen Simollardes, vice president for regulatory affairs, testified that the pipeline expansion will save consumers money by providing lower-cost fuel to Addison County. Simollardes said she compared fuel oil prices with natural gas over a 10-year period.
“And over that decade, I believe we had a competitive advantage over fuel oil in all but 3 percent of the time,” she said.
The new line would run 43 miles through southern Chittenden County and several towns in Addison County. A later phase of the project would run under Lake Champlain to serve the International Paper plant in Ticonderoga, N.Y.
The proposed route crosses seven natural areas that the state ranks as ecologically significant, including a sand plain forest and a northern cedar swamp. On the eve of the hearings, Vermont Gas and the state Agency of Natural Resources reached an agreement to protect those areas with a technique known as horizontal directional drilling.
Vermont Gas spokesman Steve Wark said the company plans to use the innovative drilling technology over 4 miles of the pipeline route.
“That allows us to go under several sensitive areas and bodies of waters, for example, rivers or streams,” he said. “And there were a couple of other sensitive areas that we had worked with the agency and we’ve decided it would be appropriate to use that technique to go under as well.”
The Agency of Natural Resources said the agreement addresses the concerns it had raised earlier with the Public Service Board. An agency official said Vermont Gas still needs separate permits — such as a wetland permit and a stream alteration permit — for specific portions of the pipeline project.
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