No one can fault Don Gilbert, president of Vermont Gas, from promoting his favorite
fossil fuel, but his assumptions on the emissions and cost savings of a proposed gas
pipeline are based on outdated information and are not aligned with more recent science.
Vermont Gas Systems (VGS) is in the planning and permitting stages of a major natural
gas transmission pipeline expansion in Chittenden and Addison counties. The proposed
pipeline project will extend from Colchester to Vergennes and Middlebury, then under
Lake Champlain to Ticonderoga, N.Y., to serve the International Paper mill.
In recent weeks, opposition to the pipeline has increased as landowners, climate activists
like Bill McKibben, and environmental groups like Vermont Public Interest Research
Group, Toxics Action Center and Vermont Natural Resources Council became aware of
the environmental and human health risks associated with hydraulic fracturing, gas
consumption and high transmission pipelines.
The opposition is concerned that the gas in the pipeline is obtained through hydraulic
fracturing, “fracking,” an increasingly common form of extracting gas that blasts a high
pressure cocktail of sand, water and chemicals below the surface of the earth to crack
open deposits of gas in shale formations.
In detailed testimony recently filed with the Vermont Public Service Board, the
Conservation Law Foundation explained that the simplistic evaluation by Vermont Gas,
that the gas pipeline expansion will reduce emissions, is simply wrong.
Testimony from Dr. Elizabeth Stanton shows that the emissions from the full natural gas
life cycle of the project result in significant increases in global warming pollution.
That’s because it is most likely that Vermont Gas’ gas supply would come from
hydraulic fracturing wells producing methane emissions. Methane — a much more
potent greenhouse gas than CO2 — is particularly troubling because, molecule for
molecule, methane has roughly 25 times the warming power of CO2, according to recent
According to a 2011 Cornell study, gas obtained through fracking is worse than coal and
oil in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.
In Stanton’s testimony, she says, “In 2010, Vermonters paid over $600 million to import
fossil fuelbased heating fuels; most of the money leaves the Vermont economy.” She
also says that expanding natural gas increases emissions more than three million tons
over 100 years and brings environmental costs of an additional $76 million.
Testimony by Dr. Jon Erickson, dean of the Rubenstein School of Environment and
Natural Resources at the University of Vermont, shows that by expanding the gas
pipeline we would be locking in to fossil fuels at a time when our climate and energy
goals require moving in the opposite direction.
He states: “Any expansion of the delivery of natural gas to customers in Vermont has the
potential to substitute for other nonrenewable, carbonbased fuels (such as fuel oil), but
also has the potential to displace current and future uses of renewable energy (such as
woodbased home heating or district heating).”
His testimony goes on to state: “Beyond greenhouse gasrelated risk, the extraction of
natural gas supplies is using increasingly environmentally damaging procedures such as
hydrofracking, a practice that Vermont has banned within state borders. Environmental
regulation in other states and Canadian Provinces poses a risk to the longterm stability
of natural gas supplies.
Then there is another testimony from Jeffrey Wolfe, former CEO of groSolar, who says
that: “Since similar energy cost savings for individuals are likely available through
weatherization costing less than the percustomer cost for the pipeline, this would be a
way to lower energy bills for these customers. Weatherization and other energy
efficiency measures results in very sure reduction and stabilization of energy bills.”
The consumer is better protected from energy price swings and spikes by efficiency and
conservation, not natural gas delivery. Natural gas is not cleaner energy.
Since a major expansion of the pipeline could cause thousands of Vermonters to “lock
in” with natural gas for generations rather than switch to a renewable alternative, I
believe this huge investment in the pipeline infrastructure takes us in the wrong direction.
Crea Lintilhac of Shelburne is a director of the Lintilhac Foundation, working towards a
renewable energy economy for Vermont.