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Just Passing Through: Fracked Gas, the Northern Pass, and Tar Sands

By: Jason Reimers, Esq.

With no east-west interstate and a wild northern section, New Hampshire has long been more of a destination than a pass-through state for human travelers. However, fossil fuels are passing through all the time. Several existing pipelines already carry natural gas and oil through New Hampshire, and many companies want to increase and diversify the fuels and electricity flowing through New Hampshire, most of which would be passing through on its way to somewhere else. These projects include the Northern Pass, a pipeline carrying Pennsylvanian natural gas, and pipelines carrying Canadian natural gas and tar sands oil.

Northern Pass gets all the press. The Northern Pass is a proposed 180-mile power line through New Hampshire that has been proposed by PSNH, Northeast Utilities, and Hydro-Quebec. I have heard from a credible source that an area of Quebec larger than New Hampshire would be (or already has been) flooded to generate the electricity. On this side of the border, we have yet to see if the Northern Pass will be built and, if so, whether all or part of it will be buried. Interests as diverse as U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte and the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests have called for burial of the lines.

As for pipelines, an existing pipeline brings natural gas from Canada to Portland, Maine, passing under the New Hampshire towns of Berlin and Groveton (and others) along the way. The owners of this pipeline—Portland Natural Gas Transmission System—have proposed to expand it.

There is another existing pipeline between Portland and Montreal. This one carries oil from Portland (the other one brings natural gas from Canada to Portland) and runs under the New Hampshire towns of Lancaster, Jefferson, Randolph, Gorham and Shelburne. There has been speculation that the owners of this decades-old pipeline will seek permission to reverse the flow of that pipeline to carry tar sands oil from Alberta to Portland. Tar sands oil poses different risks, and that is why this pipeline will be in the news if the pipeline owners do seek to get into the business of transporting tar sands oil.

Another proposed pipeline that has been in the news recently is Tennessee Pipeline Company’s (“Tennessee”) plan to build a brand new pipeline east-west from Pennsylvania to Dracut, Massachusetts that would carry newly fracked gas from Pennsylvania. Fracking is shorthand for hydraulic fracturing, which involves injecting liquids and chemicals into the ground to force out the gas. The possibility of contaminated drinking water concerns many people who live near fracking activities. Luckily for us, there is no fracking in New Hampshire, so all we have to worry about is arsenic and MtBE in our well water!

Tennessee has proposed building its pipeline along the length of northern Massachusetts on its way to Dracut, with a spur line jutting into New Hampshire through the Hollis and Brookline area. Unfortunately, Tennessee has proposed building the spur line (which requires a permanent fifty-foot wide footprint) through conserved land in Hollis that contains wildlife habitat and popular hiking trails. The landowners and easement holders, as well as the Office of the N.H. Attorney General and the N.H. Fish and Game Department, have weighed in and urged that, if the pipeline is built, it be built along existing rights-of-way rather than cutting a new path through conserved land.

Earlier this month, Tennessee announced that it is considering an alternative route for the main pipeline that would have it running east-west through southern New Hampshire rather than through Massachusetts. I can only speculate that Tennessee is considering relocating the pipe to southern New Hampshire because of the stiff resistance it has faced in Massachusetts. The proposed New Hampshire alternative would apparently go through Winchester, Fitzwilliam, Rindge, New Ipswich, Greenville, (and others) on its way to Londonderry before heading south for Dracut.

Nobody knows if any of these plans will come to fruition. It is important, though, to be aware of what passes through (and under) New Hampshire. Just because something is out of sight does not mean that it should be out of mind.