Pipeline Greenhouse Gas Impacts Debated

Jul 2, 2013

The Public Service Board is faced with conflicting studies on the greenhouse gas impacts of a proposed Addison County natural gas pipeline.

A study filed last month by an environmental group says the pipeline would increase global warming emissions. But Vermont Gas Systems has now produced its own research, showing a net reduction in greenhouse gases.

Vermont Gas spokesman Steve Wark says the utility’s consultant found that greenhouse gas emissions will drop if consumers convert from burning fuel oil to natural gas provided by the proposed 42 mile pipeline.

“When switching from oil, emissions will be cut by almost 14,000 tons a year, or over a 20 year period about 278,000 tons,” he said. “So this is very good news. It confirmed what we knew all along, which is that natural gas is a cleaner alternative.”

The emissions analysis looked at pollution released during the entire fuel cycle, including production, processing and transmission. The study was done by Joel Bluestein of ICF International in Fairfax, Va.

Bluestein’s conclusion conflicts with a study done for the Conservation Law Foundation which said the pipeline would cause a net increase in global warming pollution. Wark says Bluestein’s analysis is more accurate.

“The CLF analysis contained errors and it did not take into account the emissions of greenhouse gases from the production, refinement, and transportation of oil. Basically, they didn’t do a full fuel cycle analysis on oil, only on gas,” he said.

Natural gas is primarily methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, which is produced when oil or natural gas is burned.

Critics of the Addison pipeline argue that methane is released as gas is extracted and shipped, adding to the potential global warming impacts of the fuel.

Sandra Levine, senior attorney for Conservation Law Foundation, stands by her report’s findings.

“There is still an increase in greenhouse gas emissions from this proposed pipeline expansion,” she said.

Levine says that in order to get state approval for its project, Vermont Gas Systems was required to do the full cycle analysis.

“And it’s really disappointing that Vermont Gas did not provide this sort of analysis, or a more comprehensive analysis, with their initial petition,” she said. “This is clearly produced in response to concerns raised by Conservation Law Foundation and the overall life-cycle greenhouse gas impacts of expanding a pipeline in Vermont.”

But Wark form Vermont Gas says the report was delayed while the consultant waited to get the latest greenhouse gas numbers from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Public Service Board will now have to sort through the evidence and reach its own conclusions about the greenhouse gas impacts.