This section is updated and written by organizers from Protect Geprags Park. Please consider a donation to help this grassroots group pay legal fees associated with this volunteer work that is crucial to stopping the pipeline!
OFF Fossil Fuels: Pursuing a Statewide Ban on New Infrastructure!
350Vermont, Toxics Action Center, UVAG, and VPIRG have joined together, with the help of climate-conscious allies in the State House, to put a ban on all new fossil fuel infrastructure in Vermont! Last session, Rep. Mary Sullivan introduced a bill (known then as H.746) that called for this ban, which for the maintenance of existing infrastructure. Since it was late in the session, the bill did not pass– but she will reintroduce it in 2019. Since then, 350VT and UVAG have been working together to ask our representatives to co-sign the bill, and over 20 have so far, in addition to 800+ people signing UVAG’s citizen petition! Meanwhile, VPIRG has been making sure that politicians in our state refuse to take fossil fuel money for their campaigns. Official campaign media, actions you can take, and more– ALL COMING SOON!
VGS Pipeline: We’ve Been Waiting Over 450 Days for an Investigation– We’re Still Fighting for Answers!
As the ticker at the bottom of this page will tell you, it’s been well over a year since the Public Utility Commission ordered Vermont Gas to pay for an INDEPENDENT investigator to look into the depth at which the pipeline was buried– which came into question after citizens from Protect Geprags brought photographic evidence to the PUC’s attention. Long story short: the pipe is not nearly as deep as Vermont Gas promised it would be, which lead citizens to research what else went wrong, and how that would impact the safety of this project. What they found was jarring: at least 8 total categories of violations, many of which were recorded in Vermont Gas’ own documentation, but kept out of the public eye. Those items were added to the scope of the investigation.
But the investigation still has not happened. The public has not gotten answers, from the depth of the pipe, to how it was put in the ground, to if it’s protected from the elements.
In September, the PUC hosted a status conference on the issue. A single investigator answered the RFP (Request for Proposals)– likely because the document was not easy to find. The RFP was also missing several of the 8 categories of alleged violations. In short, the process was disappointing at best. But the intervenors (many of whom are members of Protect Geprags) have pushed onward, and continue to fight for and INDEPENDENT and transparent process that gives the public the answers they deserve, and the safety that the Certificate of Public Good (CPG; the document allowing VGS to build) promised.
Fears of an accident have been compounded by a rash of pipeline explosions in our area– some that have been deadly, and others that have occurred on lines less than a week old.
37 plaintiffs from Bristol filed a complaint against Vermont Gas, the Town, and the Selectboard. The entities signed an agreement last week, allowing for the construction of fracked gas distribution lines in the town, despite a petition to put them to a vote. They also did this without warning the residents of Bristol– and the complaint alleges that this is a violation of 24 VSA section 1061. The plaintiffs site environmental, economic, and safety concerns, as well as the pending investigation of the existing Vermont Gas infrastructure and the Town’s commitment to sustainable energy. If a judge sides with the plaintiffs, it could mean that they get a binding vote, which could put a stop to any planned construction.
To read the Bristol residents’ press release, click HERE You can also find the complaint itself HERE. For more information, or if you are a Bristol resident interested in getting involved, please contact Julie at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bristol Map This map indicates Vermont Gas Systems’ plan for fracked gas distribution lines in the town of Bristol, VT.
Back in March, over 200 people in Bristol (well over the 5% required) signed a petition asking for a non-binding ballot item, which the Selectboard denied. Undeterred, concerned residents showed up to many Selectboard meetings, suggesting that a special meeting be held. They also suggested that the Town hold off on signing anything with Vermont Gas until the investigation (which you can read more about below) took place– similar to how the Monkton Selectboard put a hold on any legal proceedings and the construction of a gate station. Then, possibly during an executive session, the Selectboard signed an agreement with Vermont Gas.
The complaint explains that pipeline accidents are common, and construction/maintenance of the gas lines would be further complicated by aging water lines. “Natural gas distribution lines, if damaged by forces of nature, digging, or aging, can produce explosions with catastrophic effects on people and property. Over 90 percent of fatal distribution line accidents, and over 70 percent of non-fatal accidents, are caused by third parties (such as contractors excavating other underground utilities), not because of errors by gas distribution companies. Strict regulation of, and safe practices by, the gas company, therefore, cannot prevent these
It also explains the effects of methane (the primary component of natural gas) on the climate: “Use of natural gas to heat homes is highly damaging to the climate. The current scientific literature, by leading scientists in the world, estimates that burning natural gas to heat homes is 30 to 100 times more damaging to our atmosphere than burning oil to heat homes. This is because methane (natural gas is primarily methane) is an extremely potent greenhouse gas, and because a large amount of methane escapes into the atmosphere during extraction, processing, storage, transmission and distribution.”
We are an all-volunteer group who came together in 2016 to oppose the construction of the Vermont Gas Systems fracked-gas pipeline through our hometown park in Hinesburg, Vermont. (Website HERE)
As the 41-mile long pipeline pushed down the state, Vermonters came forward with stories of broken landowner agreements, of negligent environmental analysis, of lives put at risk during installation, and of safety threats buried with the pipeline.
Members of Protect Geprags Park began to study thousands of pages in the public record. These documents detail a history of problems compounded across all years of construction. We submitted two extensive compilations of concerns to the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and the State of Vermont. As the voices of Vermonters rose, both federal and state investigations were opened.
Our push now is for the most independent and comprehensive safety review possible. This high-pressure pipeline runs through villages, near homes and along roads. It crosses working farmland and cuts through wetlands and dozens of streams. For miles it follows the high voltage electric corridor, which in itself is precedent-setting in Vermont and comes with complex, embedded risks.
Alleged violations include a degradation of the safety requirements specified in the VT Certificate of Public Good as well as the breaking of MINIMUM federal safety regulations across all years of construction. Among the problems: coating failures in unknown numbers along the Addison Natural Gas Pipeline (coatings are the first line of defense against corrosion); trash/metal/glass buried in the backfill; pipe buried without the specified support; repair materials which themselves were flawed; shallow depth of cover; lack of effective quality assurance protocols and worker training; and missing or flawed records of inspection that inhibit comprehensive risk analysis and long-term monitoring.
Fracked gas buildout is escalating across North America. The potency of this fuel makes it worse in the short term than even burning coal. The life systems of the Earth and a habitable climate are at stake as time runs out for change… Meanwhile the land and the lives and health of the people where the gas is fracked are being devastated. PGP is determined to confront fossil gas buildout in our own state, and thereby to stand for the protection of the climate, the Earth, and the land and people everywhere.
For over five years, Vermonters have fought a fracked gas pipeline that will threaten landowners, increase rates for customers, and release methane into the atmosphere. It will also lock Vermont into fossil fuel use for the foreseeable future–the pipeline isn’t a bridge to a liveable future; it’s a gangplank to climate catastrophe. Fracking is so destructive and morally reprehensible that it has been banned in Vermont, so how can we support bringing in fracked gas from outside Vermont?
Vermont Gas CEO, Don Rendall, recently expressed “warm wishes from Vermont Gas” in a holiday advert to residents of Addison County, referring to gas as “safe, affordable and clean”. Which it simply is not.
Citizens continue to challenge Vermont Gas ANGP pipeline project as a very real threat to public safety. It is a threat to our safety because of the climate impacts – since natural gas is methane, a more potent greenhouse gas even than carbon. But further, problems with construction practices have left Vermont with a pipeline that threatens to leak or even explode.
A current case before the Public Utility Commission (PUC), is focused on shallow depth of cover in a New Haven swamp, and failure to comply with permitting requirements for notification of blasting. VGS filed for a “nonsubtantial change” to their certificate of public good (CPG) permit, admitting they had not buried the pipe deep enough in the swamp. We argued that the New Haven swamp might not be the only place where the pipe was not buried deep enough.
Organizers also argued that the issue of pipe supports, padding and backfill (rock-free material placed under, around and over the pipeline to support and protect it) is intimately correlated with depth, since the trench must accommodate those, as well as the pipe itself. That opens the door in this case a bit further in important ways.
The long view: what we see as we look back and forward over the years of this fight: Governor Shumlin insisted on this project, perhaps even against the best interests of VGS – the project was far bigger than anything they had done before. DPS, the PUC went along and Vermont government did everything in its’ power to ensure the pipeline was constructed, even in spite of strong, persistent, powerful public opposition from the start. The fight dragged on over years, and became increasingly ugly as it became ever more blatantly obvious how misguided the project is – with cost overruns, new understanding of fracking and methane, shifting energy markets, lack of demand for gas, and growing awareness of serious problems with construction. DPS and the PUC were in too deep and did not see a way out, they were committed, they continued to support the project and disregard the public, even going so far as to attempt to bar public access to hearings.
The PUC now has a new chair, Anthony Roisman. With new faces in the agencies, a startling cumulative history of opposition, and a growing mountain of evidence of serious public safety risks resulting from VGS recklessness and failed DPS oversight, the ground has perhaps shifted a bit. We are working to submit all that we have learned to the PUC and further documenting facts by taking more, (and expensive!) depositions. Some, especially VGS and the failed DPS regulators may heartily wish to sweep this whole horrendous mess under the rug, let bygones be bygones, and keep fingers crossed that there will not be a terrible pipeline incident in Vermont. But we are not going along with that. We believe that persistence is paying off, and that the safety of our friends and neighbors and our beautiful state of Vermont is worth fighting for.
Donate here and find more information on Protect Geprags Park on their website!
You can find a map of all the pipeline projects here. We have supported and mobilized for national pipeline protests in the past and are gearing up to take action this spring against the passing of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Despite overwhelming public opposition, state authorities in Nebraska – backed by Trump and the fossil fuel industry – just gave TransCanada a permit to build the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline – but it’s not the route they wanted.
We’ve promised to protect and commit to traveling to the pipeline route to engage in peaceful, creative resistance to Keystone XL when the call is put out by frontline communities to help stop this Black Snake. You can learn more and sign up by clicking the button below!