Author Archives: Rosemary Wessel

Study: Natural Gas Power Plants Emit up to 120 Times More Methane Than Previously Estimated

Natural gas power plant

Researchers at Purdue University and the Environmental Defense Fund have concluded in a recent study that natural gas power plants release 21–120 times more methane than earlier estimates.

Published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, the study also found that for oil refineries, emission rates were 11–90 times more than initial estimates. Natural gas, long touted as a cleaner and more climate-friendly alternative to burning coal, is obtained in the U.S. mostly via the controversial horizontal drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).

The scientists measured air emissions at three natural gas-fired power plants and three refineries in Utah, Indiana, and Illinois using Purdue’s flying chemistry lab, the Airborne Laboratory for Atmospheric Research (ALAR). They compared their results to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program.

“Power plants currently use more than one third of natural gas consumed in the U.S. and the volume used is expected to increase as market forces drive the replacement of coal with cheaper natural gas,” the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) said in a press release. The nonprofit commissioned and funded the study with a grant from the Afred P. Sloan Foundation.

“But if natural gas is going to deliver on its promise, methane emissions due to leaks, venting, and flaring need to be kept to a minimum.”

Methane Leaks Major Source of Emissions

Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide but hangs around the atmosphere for a shorter time, with a global warming effect 84–87 times that of CO2 over a 20-year period, according to the EPA.

“[Methane is] a better fuel all around as long as you don’t spill it,” Paul Shepson, an atmospheric chemistry professor at Purdue, said in a press release. “But it doesn’t take much methane leakage to ruin your whole day if you care about climate change.”

The researchers were careful to differentiate between emissions related to natural gas combustion versus leakage, with the latter found to be the primary source of methane emissions in this small, preliminary study. Previous estimates of methane emissions were reported to the EPA from the facilities themselves and were restricted to what came out of the smokestack, which means they excluded leaks from equipment such as steam turbines and compressors.

The study was done as part of EDF‘s ongoing series of studies measuring methane emissions and leakage throughout the U.S. natural gas supply chain. EDF said in its press release that the Purdue scientists plan to follow up with research at additional oil refineries and power plants. Purdue stated in a press release that support for the research also came from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Natural gas recently eclipsed coal as a power source feeding the U.S. electric grid, according to data published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

“For decades, coal has been the dominant energy source for generating electricity in the United States. EIA‘s Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) is now forecasting that 2016 will be the first year that natural gas-fired generation exceeds coal generation in the United States on an annual basis,” explained the EIA in March 2016. “Natural gas generation first surpassed coal generation on a monthly basis in April 2015, and the generation shares for coal and natural gas were nearly identical in 2015, each providing about one-third of all electricity generation.”

Trump Admininstration Dismantling Methane Regulations

The Purdue-EDF research results were published the same week President Donald Trump proposed massive cuts to the EPA, which would include a 23 percent cut to the enforcement division tasked with overseeing emissions at gas-fired power plants and oil refineries. The Trump administration has also announced its intentions to halt former President Barack Obama’s proposed methane emissions rule for gas situated on U.S. public lands and has already reversed the Obama EPA‘s information request for methane emissions data from U.S. domestic oil and gas producers.

As DeSmog previously reported, Carl Icahn, the business tycoon who interviewed and vetted current EPA Administrator Scott Pruittowns petrochemical refineries with a documented history of exceeding allowable emissions rates set by the EPA. In addition to being a major donor to Trump’s campaign, Icahn also serves as an adviser on regulatory issues to the Trump White House, a position set to benefit his extensive business holdings and raising concerns about conflicts of interest.

Icahn, however, has dismissed these concerns, telling Bloomberg Businessweek, “It may sound corny to you, but I think doing certain things helps the country a lot. And yeah, it helps me. I’m not apologizing for that.”

Eversource seeks higher fees on customers with solar

Environmental group raises concerns about proposed demand charge

Eversource is proposing special charges for customers with solar installations to make sure they pay their share of the cost of operating the power grid.

The proposed charges are contained in Eversource’s rate filing, which is under review at the state Department of Public Utilities. The utility says the charges are needed because many solar customers produce more power than they use, which allows them to escape paying their share of the power grid’s fixed costs.

The proposed new charges for homeowners with solar installations coincide with a push by the Baker administration to cut in half the subsidies paid by electric ratepayers to solar developers. The overall cost of solar incentives paid by ratepayers through their electric bills has been running at $400 to $500 million a year (or 40 to 50 cents a kilowatt hour), and the new plan is expected to cut that in half, Baker administration officials said. The new plan is intended to spur the development of the next 1,600 megawatts of solar capacity.

Reducing the size of solar incentives and assessing higher charges on customers with solar installations are policies that have been high priorities of Massachusetts utilities. The utilities say they are merely trying to keep electric bills reasonable and fairly distribute costs among customers. But environmental advocates have suggested that solar power is a long-term threat to companies like Eversource, which rely on customers who want electricity delivered to their homes rather than customers who produce their own power.

Bills for electricity typically have two types of charges – a fixed monthly customer charge that recovers the cost of connecting a home to the grid and per-kilowatt-hour charges for everything else. Homeowners with solar installations on their roofs don’t fit neatly into this billing system because they produce much of their own electricity and receive net metering credits when they sell electricity into the grid. The credits are valued at the retail price of electricity, so homeowners can use the credits to offset the cost of electricity being drawn from the grid when the sun isn’t shining.

» Read full article

Western Mass pipeline fighters win legal battle over Clean Water Act

Otis State Forest Entrance
State agencies have the right to hear Clean Water Act challenges related to natural gas pipelines, the First Circuit ruled on March 15, 2017. (Mary Serreze photo)
by Mary Serreze, Special to The Springfield Republican
March 20, 2017

BOSTON — Western Massachusetts residents fighting the Connecticut Expansion pipeline won a legal battle last week when a federal appeals court agreed that Clean Water Act challenges under the U.S. Natural Gas Act should be heard by the states, and not by a federal court.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on March 15 that it has no jurisdiction to hear a Section 401 Water Quality Certification appeal related to the 14-mile, three-state project proposed by Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., a Kinder Morgan subsidiary.

The judgment affirms the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s right to conduct its own permitting process — from beginning to end — when it comes to applications from gas pipeline firms to alter streams, ponds, and other water resources under its jurisdiction.

The ruling came as the result of a legal action by members of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, or BEAT.

“Although we are disappointed with the Court’s decision, we are confident that we will successfully complete the permit processes, and look forward to executing on this project to increase deliveries of clean, domestic natural gas for New England consumers,” said a Kinder Morgan spokesman.

Tennessee had argued that such challenges should be heard by the First Circuit, and asserted that letting the state handle the appeals process could lead to a lengthy delay.

Tennessee gained a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission certificate for the project in March and had hoped to have the pipeline up and running by November 2016.

Tennessee first filed for a required water quality certification on June 30, 2015. MassDEP issued a conditional certificate one year later, and pipeline opponents quickly filed an appeal. That appeal is pending, and MassDEP says it will issue a ruling by April 3.

» Read full article

Appeals court says pipelines must pass state reviews

Recorder Staff
Friday, March 17, 2017

An appeals court this week rejected the notion that federal law allows pipelines to proceed without all relevant state reviews.

Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.’s pipeline through the southern Berkshire town of Sandisfield now can’t proceed before getting final water quality certification from the state.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals deferred to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s own process of issuing a final federally required water quality certificate for the proposed Connecticut Expansion Project.

The company, which proposes to extend an existing pipeline in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts, sought a stay of a DEP adjudicatory hearing and other administrative proceedings after Berkshire Environmental Action Team and a citizens’ group jointly appealed a preliminary certification notice last July.

Richard Kanoff, the lawyer who brought the group’s appeal, said, “The decision means in the future that Kinder Morgan/TGP will be required to procure a final DEP water quality certificate, following a full and complete evaluation. The notion that DEP’s review may be interrupted midstream following an initial determination, as TGP claimed in this case, has been rejected.”

TGP spokesman Richard Wheatley said, “Although we are disappointed with the court’s decision, we are confident that we will successfully complete the permit processes and look forward to executing on this project to increase deliveries of clean, domestic natural gas for New England consumers.”

The conditional approval TGP received included a condition forbidding the company from “conducting any ‘work subject to this Certification, including the cutting of trees,’ until ‘the expiration of the Appeal Period,” according to the 18-page decision by the three-judge panel that included retired U.S. Supreme Court Judge David Souter.

“In a literal sense, state agencies repeatedly take ‘action’ in connection with applications for water quality certifications,” the decision reads. “They docket applications, review them, and express opinions about them. We see no reason, though, to think that Congress wanted us to exercise immediate review over such preliminary and numerous steps that state agencies may take in processing an application before they actually act in the more relevant and consequential sense of granting or denying it.”

The ruling leaves in place DEP’s internal appeal process, which is expected to result in a final decision from the DEP commissioner around March 27, according to Jane Winn, executive director of Berkshire Environmental Action Team. The organization filed the case along with 16 citizens, including Winn, Ashfield Selectboard member Ronald R. Coler, Kathryn Eiseman of the Pipeline Awareness Network for the Northeast, and Rosemary Wessel, cofounder of No Fracked Gas in Mass.

BEAT appealed the DEP’s water quality certification process on the grounds that the agency did not thoroughly consider alternatives, Winn said. The project would pass through Otis State Forest and hurt wetlands, endanger rare species and cause extensive damage to the environment, according to BEAT.

“We appealed on solid grounds, but we’re thrilled it delayed it,” said Winn. She noted that any final decision by DEP could still be appealed to the federal court.

Without a needed 401 water quality certificate, federal and state laws prohibit “authorization of tree-cutting or other activity that will result in the discharge of dredged or fill material” into any water body.

Eiseman said the case is significant because it “helps define the limits to the pre-emptive powers of the Natural Gas Act, and highlights the pivotal role that key state decision-making processes play in interstate pipeline permitting.”

She added, “There are limits to the Natural Gas Act’s pre-emptive powers, that this case is helping to define. Pipeline companies are just trying to go beyond reasonable limits, and the justices were not falling for it at all. … The federal appeals court was saying, ‘Let them work through the agency process.’”

You can reach Richie Davis at or 413-772-0261, ext. 269

Court Victory for the People, Loss for Tennessee Gas

by Kathryn Eiseman, Pipe Line Awareness Network for the Northeast
March 17, 2017

BOSTON — In the many ongoing proceedings regarding the Connecticut Expansion pipeline proposed by the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company (TGP), an important legal victory has just been won for Clean Water Act advocacy in the context of Natural Gas Act proceedings. This decision has potential ramifications for interstate gas pipeline proceedings nationwide.

The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has rejected TGP’s legal arguments with which the company sought to cut short the Massachusetts state agency review of the company’s water quality application filed for the Connecticut Expansion Project.  (Link to court decision)

Last July, the Citizen Petitioners — 16 individuals, together with the Berkshire Environmental Action Team — appealed an initial Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) water quality certification issued by the MassDEP Western Regional Office.  In accordance with Massachusetts law, that appeal was filed with the MassDEP Office of Appeals and Dispute Resolution.

TGP responded by suing all of the Citizen Petitioners in federal district court, asserting that MassDEP lacked jurisdiction to continue with its administrative process because of a section in the Natural Gas Act that the company claimed preempted further state agency review.

Thus, the Petitioners filed their First Circuit appeal in August out of precaution, to preserve all rights of appeal. The Petitioners asked that their own court appeal be dismissed as premature because the MassDEP proceeding remained ongoing.  On Wednesday, the First Circuit did dismiss the appeal, as the Petitioners had requested, allowing the MassDEP review process to continue through to a final decision by the commissioner.

Kathryn Eiseman, president of the Pipe Line Awareness Network for the Northeast (PLAN), explains:  “This case helps define the limits to the preemptive powers of the Natural Gas Act, and highlights the pivotal role that key state decision-making processes play in interstate pipeline permitting.”

The three-justice panel that heard the case and ruled against TGP included retired United States Supreme Court Justice David Souter.  The Court refers to TGP’s various arguments as “[p]ushing back on … [a] common sense conclusion” and of “little if any persuasive force”.

The Citizen Petitioners were represented at the First Circuit by Richard Kanoff of Burns & Levinson LLP.

The Connecticut Expansion Project would degrade or destroy over ten acres of wetlands in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, much of it in Otis State Forest in Sandisfield. The project is intended to serve three gas utilities in Connecticut.

» Link to all 401 appeal filings


» No shortcut for gas pipeline water review

Decision expected in April on review for Otis forest project, and either side can appeal

Beaton Sees State Permitting Role in Controversial Weymouth Gas Project

By Andy Metzger

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON — As pressure mounts on Gov. Charlie Baker to speak out against a planned natural gas compressor station in Weymouth, the town’s mayor hopes to torpedo the project through a state permitting process.

Activists opposed to new fossil fuel infrastructure who fear gaseous pollutants seeping from the proposed station and the potential for a disaster have sought to enlist Baker in their cause to no avail.

Speaking to anti-pipeline activist Margaret Bellafiore, who called in to WGBH’s Ask the Governor program last week, Baker said the state only has a bit part to play, with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission taking the leading role in permitting Spectra Energy’s multistate Atlantic Bridge pipeline.

“The feds at the end of the day control these decisions,” Baker said on Thursday.

“Lock, stock and barrel,” ventured co-host Margery Eagan.

“That’s right,” Baker replied.

Although FERC controls the siting of the project, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matt Beaton said that as part of the federal approval the project must receive state environmental permits.

“Now it turns to us as part of that FERC license to make sure that the project meets the requirements of state environmental permitting and we are going to look at those issue by issue,” Beaton told the News Service on Friday.

Beaton said the project would be assessed based on the merits and “not in any predetermined way.”

Weymouth Mayor Robert Hedlund, a Republican and former state senator, has been waging a multi-front legal challenge to Spectra’s plans for locating a compressor station within the Weymouth Fore River Designated Port Area.

The South Shore town contends that building a gas compressor across the water from Quincy contravenes the state’s federally approved Coastal Zone Management policy of promoting water-dependent industries in the state’s ports.

“It has to be a water-dependent use under that designation and we’re contending this is not a water-dependent use,” Hedlund told the News Service. Hedlund said the proposed compressor station is also uniquely situated in a densely populated area.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, compressors maintain pressure to keep gas flowing, and there are 1,400 in the U.S. natural gas pipeline network.

In its conditional approval, FERC described the Weymouth compressor station as a 7,700 horsepower facility that will be raised to about 19 feet above sea level with a permanent footprint of about 4 acres.

A spokeswoman for Spectra Energy Partners said the Atlantic Bridge project will “move reliable, economical natural gas into New England and to specific end use markets in the Canadian Maritime provinces targeting an in-service date in November 2017.”

Before the Office of Coastal Zone Management finishes its consistency review, Spectra will need a so-called Chapter 91 waterways permit and an air quality permit from the Department of Environmental Protection, according to Beaton’s office.

The Weymouth mayor thinks defeating the compressor station is a longshot.

“The odds are still against us,” Hedlund said. He said, “You haven’t seen one of these projects ever rejected.”

For Alice Arena, an activist who believes the pipeline project would foil the state’s required greenhouse gas reduction target, the field of battle is both within the courts and the political sphere.

Arena was part of a group that tried to raise Baker’s awareness of the project by delivering anti-pipeline messages from thousands of residents to the governor. Arena said she does not know why the governor is discounting his power to affect the outcome.

“It’s kind of hard to predict motive. He continues to give the industry line that we need the gas,” Arena told the News Service. She said, “We will continue to petition Governor Baker.”

Arena’s group Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station has hired attorney Carolyn Elefant, based in Washington D.C., to contest FERC’s decision, and it has been fundraising “aggressively” to finance the legal challenge.

On the radio, Baker attempted to shift the focus to members of Congress.

“We’ve talked about this before. And you really ought to make sure you communicate those postcards to your federal representatives,” Baker told Bellafiore. “Because in the end these decisions get made by the federal government. The state has a minor role to play.”

Congressman Stephen Lynch has come out in opposition to FERC’s decision, and said he would work with both state and local officials on the matter.

U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey asked FERC to immediately rescind the approval before it loses its quorum.

Sen. Patrick O’Connor, a Weymouth Republican, said the area’s entire delegation is opposed to the Weymouth compressor station and the governor has been responsive to him.

“The governor has taken every single conversation that I’ve had,” said O’Connor, who said the federal energy lobby has made it difficult to challenge energy companies through the regulatory process. He said, “We’re in a really bad spot here.”

Shortly after taking office, Baker spoke favorably about another Spectra project, Access Northeast.

“I was glad to see Eversource and National Grid come out yesterday and talk about working on a project that would support that, to widen and expand existing pipeline capacity along the existing right-of-ways,” Baker said in a February 2015 New England Council breakfast.

Ways you can help stop destruction of the few Indian features left in Massachusetts

by Lisa McLoughlin of Nolumbeka Project

• preserve land for whatever reason — environmental preservation usually means that cultural resources are preserved on that land too. Support your local land trust.

• support Tribal efforts to protect their traditional cultural properties — protest projects that will bulldoze them, and make connections with Tribal Historic Preservation Officers if you have
found some stone structures that need protection (either through your historical commission, Nolumbeka Project, or similar group or reach out to them directly)

• influence the workings of your town, state, and national governments toward protection of cultural resources — introduce and enact laws that put in place protections and processes that require traditional cultural properties to be taken into account, that encourage smart development (or less development), that take a wholistic approach.

• learn about cultural resources and the governmental agencies that manage them — the writings of Thomas F. King are especially good at helping non-experts understand what’s at stake and how to go about protecting it: Saving Places that Matter, and the National Park Service Bulletin 38 are 2 good places to start.

• read history, especially local history, and collect stories from older people, hunters, and farmers (people close to the land) in your community — find out and document what was/is there so that if it is threatened you can speak to its importance. This applies to the land pre- and post- colonist—an important part of doing this work is setting the record straight and reclaiming the history of the first people before we came, and our interactions with them since. It will tell us a lot not just about them, but about us and issues we still have not resolved about how we treat others as a culture.

• talk to others about why these features matter.

Finally, I’d say that while many stone features have been destroyed, there are still thousands left. They are hiding in our back yards, in our state forests, along our waterways — everywhere in plain sight. Help others realize why they should be respectful of these when they find them, help them imagine what it might mean to have a religiously-important structure (e.g. something built to honor someone in your family) technically belong to someone else, or be at risk from vandals, pot-hunters, and developers. These stone structures are examples of how humans found a way to interact respectfully and in a mutually-beneficial way with nature. They are Natural Cultural nodes, blueprints for how we will need to think in the future if we are to survive and allow our natural world survive. They are important beyond the specific, and they should give us hope.

» Learn more about Ceremonial Stone Landscapes impacted by Kinder Morgan’s CT Expansion Pipeline path in Massachusetts

» Learn more about Nolumbeka Project

CT Legislation to support!

From Connecticut Chapter Chair, Sierra Club:
Several bills
 that could determine Connecticut’s energy future are before the state legislature.

Efficiency and clean energy have created tens of thousands of jobs in Connecticut, but some of those jobs are at risk if the legislature doesn’t act to build upon Connecticut’s successful clean energy policies. Instead, we could be stuck paying higher bills for more dirty and dangerous energy.  

On February 7th the Legislature’s Energy and Technology Committee held a hearing to consider a critical bill to continue and increase the state’s renewable energy requirements after 2020, Senate Bill 630. What wasn’t discussed was a bill to end ratepayer subsidies for more gas and pollution, known as House Bill 6546. The legislature is faced with the choice to invest in a clean energy economy or more dirty fuels and they need to hear from you today!

Contact Sen. Kevin Witkos and Rep. Brian Ohler today, and ask them to help lower energy costs and deliver more clean energy jobs by supporting both Senate Bill 630 and House Bill 6546. 

In 2016, the state’s renewable energy requirements led to contracts for new solar projects across the state in and near Brooklyn, Canterbury, Colebrook, Enfield, Litchfield, New Milford, North Haven, North Stonington, Plainfield, Pomfret, Preston, Simsbury, Somers, Stonington, Wallingford, and Waterford, reducing carbon pollution and generating affordable clean energy, new jobs, and revenues for local communities. But those requirements don’t increase after 2020.  

If our legislators don’t continue supporting clean energy, we’ll be stuck paying higher bills for dirty energy like gas, instead of investing in cleaner air and more wind and solar in New England. We’ve already subsidized new gas conversions and pipelines, and that needs to end.  

Your representatives need to hear from you: send a message to them today in support of clean energy and reducing carbon pollution. 

Legislators also discussed other bills that could subsidize the unreliable Millstone nuclear plant (Senate Bill 106) and limit solar power (Senate Bill 412). Be sure to let your officials know that we need more clean energy from wind and solar power to avoid the worst impacts of climate disruption, not unnecessary restrictions or last century’s outdated technology.  

Thanks for all you do for the environment and your communities! 

Martha Klein
Connecticut Chapter Chair
Sierra Club


Proposed Access Northeast pipeline will cost New England $6.6 billion, not the $3.2 billion claimed by pipeline sponsors

February 7, 2017 – The costs of the proposed Access Northeast pipeline to transport fracked gas into Massachusetts and other New England states would be more than double what pipeline sponsors claim — $6.6 billion versus the projected $3.2 billion – according to a dramatic new report by Synapse Energy Economics.

Furthermore, the report projects that the use of natural gas in New England for electric generation will decrease by 27% by 2023, compared to 2015, leaving the pipelines underused and unneeded.

The report was sponsored by a coalition of environmental groups, including the Sierra Club of Massachusetts, Consumers for Sensible Energy, Pipeline Awareness Network of the Northeast, Mass Energy Consumers Alliance, Connecticut Fund for the Environment and the Sierra Club of Connecticut.

Rather than reduce consumers’ bills, as claimed by the pipeline sponsors, the pipeline would increase costs for Massachusetts consumers by $141 million over the life of the pipeline, according the Synapse report.

“This report confirms what we’ve been saying all along- these pipelines aren’t needed, would raise costs on consumers, contribute to climate change, and put us in non-compliance with Massachusetts’ energy and environmental laws.”  said Emily Norton of the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Sierra Club.  “Massachusetts has a proud legacy of being a leader in the fight for our environment, but this would be a giant step backwards, toward increased reliance on fossil fuels. We deserve real solutions that look to the future, not more fracked gas pipelines that contribute to global warming, harm our environment and pick our pockets.”

“This study provides a reality check on the costs of Access Northeast to consumers and demonstrates that forging ahead with massive gas infrastructure expansion is incompatible with legal mandates throughout the region, said Kathryn R. Eiseman, President, Pipe Line Awareness Network for the Northeast, Inc.  “We know that to comply with the law and sound climate policy, we must reject this gas infrastructure overbuild and double down on renewables, energy storage, and demand-side solutions — and this study shows that.”

The use of gas-fired electricity will decline dramatically, according to the Synapse report, because electricity demand is expected to be flat for the foreseeable future and state laws require the use of more renewable resources which will force gas out of the system.

» Read full article

» Read the Synapse Study