Connecticut activists target fracked gas

By CHRISTINE MARIE

 Connecticut climate justice activists are calling for a statewide mobilization on Sept 17 at the site of a state government hearing preliminary to the issuance of air quality permits to a power plant to be sited on Towantic Hill in the rural town of Oxford.

On that date, a call to action signed by leading pipeline opponents from 350CT, the Connecticut Sierra Club, New England Food & Water Watch, and the Toxics Action Center, says, “we have the opportunity to unite all the climate justice organizations and activists in the state in an impressive mobilization to say NO to an important anchor of the Connecticut fracked gas expansion.” A drive to gather endorsers from environmental and social justice groups is underway.

Competitive Power Ventures (CPV), whose name says it all, has gotten the conditional approval of the Connecticut Siting Council to build a 785 MW dual-fuel combined-cycle electric generating plant in Oxford. This type of generation, which involves a turbine that can burn both natural gas and liquid fuel (oil), is increasingly popular in the industry in some parts of the country because it can boost profits by 43%, depending on where the plant is located in the various supply chains as well as price fluctuations in fossil fuels.

For the environment, however, there is no benefit. The threat to the climate from plant emissions is only one of the environmental threats posed by the new plant.

The plant would draw a million gallons of water annually from the Pomeraug River. According to a blog for On the Water by local resident Ron Merly, this water would be used to cool the turbines at the plant. The waste-water from the plant will then be both piped and trucked to the Naugatuck Waste Water Treatment Plant and then be released into the Naugatuck River.

“There is no sufficient data on whether or not the treatment plant can remove the heavy metals and ammonia from the contaminated water,” Merly says.

It is methane emissions, though, that are driving state activists to see this plant as one of the important lynchpins of a state energy plan gone off the rails. The governor of Connecticut issued, in April of this year, a joint action plan with the governors of six New England states that centers on building a massive new infrastructure for “natural” gas (http://www.ct.gov/deep/cwp/view.asp?Q=564676&A=4707). The “natural gas” that is being pumped through this expanded system is actually produced by fracking in Pennsylvania and other states.

Conservative estimates published by Patterson Clark in the Washington Post (April 14, 2014) say that the methane plumes coming off of fracking sites in Pennsylvania comprise up to 17.3% of the gas being forced out of the earth by the insertion of toxic chemicals. Because methane is at least 34 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2, the burning of gas would possibly be less damaging to the climate than the burning of coal only if the emissions at the fracking site were under 3.2% of the total extracted (https://www.washingtonpost.com/apps/g/page/national/unexpected-loose-gas-from-fracking/950/).

This means, Clark says, that producing fracked gas can affect the climate to a worse degree than the burning of coal! The Environmental Defense Fund put out some numbers to quantify the danger. Currently, the gas and oil industry is emitting methane at a rate of 7 million tons a year. This is equivalent, the EDF says, to the climate impact of 160 coal-fired plants running for 20 years.

Since Clark’s helpful summary of the climate impact of fracked gas emissions a year ago, the EDF has been releasing the results of a research project designed to further quantify methane emissions. The astounding results forced the Environmental Protection Agency to propose new standards that are expected, when finalized, to force the industry to cut annual methane emissions by 20-40%.

The measurements gathered by one of the EDF studies and being used by the EPA, however, are likely to be seriously undercounts. On Aug. 4, Touché Howard, a methane emissions expert who actually helped to develop the emissions sensor technology, challenged the accuracy of the EDF study overseen by chemical engineer David Allen (http://insideclimatenews.org/news/04082015/landmark-paper-underestimated-methane-leaks-gas-production-study-says).

Howard revealed that the Bacharach emissions sensor used in the study regularly failed. In some conditions, Howard has reported, the Bacharach sensor provided readings of 1-6% methane in the air when the actual amounts varied from 7-73%! The new EPA proposal, hugely inadequate before Howard’s revelations, will clearly not be sufficient to stave off the climate impact of the fracked gas expansion underway.

In New England, that expansion from the current situation in which 40% of power comes from gas, includes not only new power plants, compressor stations, and the exponential growth of intrastate pipelines to businesses and residences, but also the permitting of major 42” high-pressure interstate transmission line expansions. These include Spectra Energy’s Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) project and Kinder Morgan’s Connecticut Expansion and Northeast Energy Direct projects. The gas traveling through such lines can be under 850 pounds of pressure, meaning that ruptures can be catastrophic.

Educators from 350CT, the Sierra Club, and Food & Water Watch have been traveling throughout Connecticut, speaking at dozens of forums in small towns around the state. Residents have been mobilizing for hearings and open houses held by the Federal Energy Regulatory Agency, the state government, and the energy companies, themselves. Local committees have anchored resistance at many points along the pipeline paths. Pickets and press conferences have made the movement visible to growing numbers of people.

The main task ahead is to united the dozens of town committees, state environmental organizations, and the movements for social justice into a powerful movement that can force the state government to put a halt to the fracked gas expansion and implement an emergency plan to replace fossil fuel use with sustainable sources of power such as solar and wind.

The mobilization on Sept. 17th will be an important step along the way and build toward regional demonstrations at the time of the climate talks in Paris.