#5: Both Sides of the Pipeline

After much thought over the past week and especially on our hike yesterday, I decided that this week I want to take a step back and research the Vermont Gas Pipeline. Although I may end up pursuing the topic of Vermont’s changing environment instead, I decided that I needed to first research the pipeline in order to decide which topic I am more interested in. Besides, I wanted to know about the pipeline regardless of whether it ends up as my topic. Here’s what I found:

The main point of conflict is the pipeline itself, or the “Addison Natural Gas Project”. The pipeline is currently being built across Vermont, and will distribute natural gas to families and businesses in multiple towns. Phase 1, the line from Colchester to Middlebury and the distribution system in Addison County, is nearly finished. Phase 2, the line underneath Lake Champlain to Ticonderoga, New York has been shut down. And there is talk of a Phase 3 which would be an extension from Middlebury to Rutland. The most obvious question under dispute is “yes or no?” to the pipeline in its various forms. However, the real conflict can be found in the underlying questions. Is natural gas the right energy solution, environmentally and/or economically? Does Vermont’s Public Service Board actually take into account the voices of the public? What are the environmental impacts of the the pipeline’s construction on Vermont’s ecosystems, and the impacts on the communities where the gas is being fracked? And which matters more: short term or long term benefits?

The characters in the story are extremely divided on the issue. On one side is Vermont Gas Systems (VGS), the company building the pipeline. They argue that natural gas will save the area over $173 million over the next 20 years, and that natural gas is a more affordable energy option, as well as a cleaner one that will cut emissions of greenhouse gases by 3000,000 tons. The Public Service Board has given VGS a Certificate of Public Good to carry out their pipeline. Then there is Rising Tide Vermont, an organization dedicated to “confronting the roots of climate change” and advocating for climate justice. By their side is the Vermont Public Interest Research group, or VPIRG, “the largest nonprofit consumer and environmental advocacy organization in Vermont”, with their petition to “Stop the Fracked Gas Pipeline”. These organizations argue that VGS falsely advertises their fuel, and that natural gas isn’t actually a cleaner form of energy, especially because it has been fracked. They think that the pipeline also shouldn’t be built because it will benefit companies while communities have come together to oppose it. And as much as the pipeline has divided Vermont, many Vermonters have come together to fight for a common cause. If nothing else, the pipeline has united communities against a common enemy.

My biggest question is whether the pipeline is “a done deal”, or whether its completion is still up for debate. Most sources seem to confirm that Phase 1, the pipeline from Colchester to Middlebury, is to be completed by the end of 2016. But Rising Tide Vermont has another protest scheduled for October 20, 2016, and they seem to think they may still be able to halt the construction of Phase 1. I also would like to know if Phase 3, the extension to Rutland, is being carried through or even considered. I couldn’t seem to find sources recent enough for these questions, so I think that will involve some more in-depth research.

I would also like to know who the gas from the pipeline will be going to: companies, families, or both? In my interview with her two weeks ago, my mom said she’s heard that switching to the gas may not be an process for individuals, and I’d like to see whether this is true. Lastly, I saw that there has been a proposed plan based in Salisbury to create gas from manure and feed it into the pipeline. I would like to know whether this is still going to happen, and if so, whether the opponents of the pipeline support it for its sustainability, or oppose it for its connection to the pipeline.

After doing this research, I believe I would like to dive deeper and continue looking into this topic, at least for now. I think it would be extremely interesting to talk to people on both sides of the issue and document their points of view. The issue of the pipeline needs an objective observer to document all of the facts. Perhaps I could even get up close and personal by observing the protest on October 20th, as I have that day off from school! The prospect of delving into this issue is exciting.


“Addison Natural Gas Project.” Vermont Gas. Vermont Gas, n.d. Web. 09 Oct. 2016.
“Stop the Fracked Gas Pipeline.” Vermont Public Interest Research Group. VPIRG, 24 June 2015. Web. 09 Oct. 2016.
“Stop the Vermont Gas Pipeline.” Rising Tide Vermont. Rising Tide Vermont, n.d. Web. 09 Oct. 2016.
“The Vermont Gas Pipeline: Where Do We Go from Here?” Rising Tide Vermont. N.p., 1 Feb. 2016. Web. 09 Oct. 2016.
Featured Image by Stand.Earth
Greta Hardy-Mittell

6 Responses to “#5: Both Sides of the Pipeline

  • Greta,

    I really like the questions you generated at the end of the second paragraph. I know we had talked about short term and long term effects on Saturday, but the other ones are fascinating to consider also. I especially like the questions about the PSB and how they represent the public, and the question about impacts on Vermont versus impacts elsewhere.

    In a sense, the pipeline fight is a case study of environmental issues. Do we prioritize the short term or long term, the economic or the environmental, the Vermont landscape or the landscape elsewhere? Do we trust our government and the rule of law to get things right? If not, how should we act? When should we negotiate and compromise and when do we hold fast and not accept anything less than 100% of what we want? Exploring these questions as they relate to the pipeline could give you a lens with which to view any other environmental issue.

    As to the protest by Rising Tide VT on the 20th, it is a great opportunity to potentially hear first hand from some folks on the various sides of the issue and to get some images that could be used later on in this project. However, their website describes it as “mass direct action to stop construction” which to me sounds like they might end up in conflict with Vermont Gas and/ or law enforcement. Perhaps, reach out to them for more details before showing up. Be careful, be safe.

    Erik

    • Erik,

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment! I like the questions that you posed, as well. I agree that this could be a great lens for the environment in general. I saw something about how the pipeline is cutting through wetlands and other valuable ecosystems, which ties directly into my other topic. The indirect connections abound: after all, the pipeline is a crucial part of Vermont’s changing environment.

      I am wary of the protest, as their other ones have ended in arrests, etc. I will gather more information on it before I decide to go or not. If I do end up going, which may be unlikely, I will certainly be careful.

      Greta

  • Shel Sax
    4 years ago

    Hi Greta,
    I very much like the way that your recent post builds on your previous posts and gradually, as you think more on the topic of the environment, you are beginning to narrow down your focus to the gas pipeline.

    While it may be a ‘pipe in the ground’, the issues that it raises are significant and transcend this one pipeline. I’d encourage you to think in terms of the costs and benefits of the project (and one of the benefits might be the difference in emissions from burning gas vs whatever the likely alternative would be: coal, heavy oil, wood, etc.) Also, think about the distributions of the costs and benefits: who is most heavily impacted? Who benefits the most? Are the negative impacts being imposed on those in society who are less able to defend themselves (social justice and equity). Finally, you’ll need to define the lens through which you’re looking. And you have the option of picking one or more of them. You can consider the costs and benefits from the local level, state, national or international.
    Here’s a link to an article about energy-related CO2 emissions and their reduction as the fossil fuel mix the country uses changes. It also notes the increased role of solar and wind energy generation. You might find it useful when looking from a national level:
    http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=28312
    From a more local perpsective, here’s one about Burlington running entirely on renewable energy:
    http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/vermont-city-come-rely-100-percent-renewable-energy/
    Like many issues, it’s complicated and important.
    Hope this is of some help. Good luck in continuing to focus

  • Shel,
    Thank you for the feedback, pushing me to more in the right direction, and for the interesting sources! I especially liked the video about Burlington. I had no idea that this city, an hour away from me, ran completely on renewable energy (at least by their definition). It’s really exciting to see what Vermont is doing. Also, I saw SO many connections to the pipeline: whether it’s better to do the best we can now, or work towards perfection in the future, the question of whether a source is a good long-term or short-term solution, and which source is best for the people… It’s all related!
    I hope you’re as fascinated with this as I am,
    Greta

  • Hello Greta,
    I really enjoyed reading your blog post this week, it looks like you really dug into this story and really understand it. It is interesting to have a topic that has two sides to it, so you can look at both the pro’s and con’s. A question that I am wondering after reading this post is; why did phase two of the project get cancelled? Was it because of the protests? Or were they worried that it would affect the lake?
    it is cool that you decided to take a step back, and start digging into this issue even though you think you might change. I also think that understanding this issue might help you gain more inspiration and perspective on the bigger issue of climate change in Vermont.
    Looking forward to see how your thoughts progress,
    Petra

    • Petra,
      Thank you for your comment!
      I think that the protests did have a big part of the cancellation. They brought to light the problems with the plan, including it’s effects on the lake. So the protesters did get somewhere, if not all the way. I’ll have to do more research on that though!
      Greta

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