BU Prof and Environmental Lawyer to Lecture on Gas Pipelines and Alternatives

June 20, 2016

Does Massachusetts need more natural gas capacity, including controversial projects like the Access Northeast Pipeline and the Fore River compressor station? Or are there safer, cleaner ways to fill our energy needs? At 7 pm on Monday June 20, Nathan Phillips, a Boston University environmental scientist, and Tyler Soleau, energy and climate outreach director of the Acadia Center, which does energy research and advocacy, will tackle these questions in a lecture at the main branch of the Thomas Crane Public Library, 40 Washington Street in Quincy Center.

Phillips, an author of some 75 articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals such as the Environmental Science and Technology and Proceeedings of the National Academy of Sciences, will detail his research on leaks in existing gas infrastructure, including the gas distribution pipelines that run beneath the streets of Quincy. Three percent of the natural gas brought into Massachusetts is lost because of leaky distribution pipes, he said in a telephone interview, and because natural gas is mostly methane, a super-potent greenhouse gas, those leaks are to blame for roughly 10 percent of the state’s carbon footprint. Leaking natural gas can also cause explosions and contribute to disease, he said.

Expanding pipelines and adding new compressor stations to bring more natural gas to the state is “like putting a new addition on a house with a leaky roof,” said Philips. “The new infrastructure will increase the pressure in distribution pipes, and that is bound to create new leaks and exacerbate existing leaks.… It will cause many nonhazardous sites to become hazardous.”

For his part of the lecture, the Acadia Center’s Tyler Soleau will discuss the state’s future energy needs and whether they can best be filled by increasing natural gas capacity. “I’ll be talking about where our energy mix is now, where we need it to be, and why natural gas doesn’t need to be a big part of that,” he said. Instead, he said, “We can build a future based on efficiency and clean energy.”

Officeholders and activists from Quincy and Weymouth “have been fighting a tough battle against Spectra Energy’s proposed Fore River Compressor Station,” said David Reich, board chair of Quincy Climate Action Network, a cosponsor of the lecture, along with Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS) and the library. “This lecture will arm us with the hard facts we need to continue fighting.”

Alice Arena, lead and founder of FRRACS, added that “Spectra’s principal claim is that we need this gas, but if they plugged up all the existing leaks, we would actually have more gas than we need.” As for Gov. Baker’s proposal to pay for new gas infrastructure by adding a tariff to electric bills, Arena says, “We can’t afford to pour money into a dying energy source. We need to pour money into wind, solar, tidal, and other forms of renewable energy.”