A clarifiation has been made to this op-ed making clear that National Grid does not have an ownership stake in the Weymouth compressor station. More detail is at the end of the op-ed.
MARCY REED’S February 15 commentary, “Hunger and the Clean Energy Transition,” is misleading, disingenuous, and self-serving.
Reed, who is the Massachusetts president and executive vice president for US policy and social impact at National Grid, bubbles with praise for gas. She notes that gas combustion produces less carbon dioxide than combustion of coal or oil, which is true. She notes that it costs about half as much to heat a home in New England with gas as with electricity, which is again true. Based on these two facts, Reed argues that gas will help the poor meet their energy needs and that gas will prevent hunger.
But these rosy claims are only a part of the story, and Reed fails to mention other key facts.
First, Reed says nothing about the many hazards that gas poses to human health and well-being. Fracking is linked to contamination of ground and surface water, air pollution, noise and light pollution, radiation releases, ecosystem damage, and earthquakes. Gas transmission and storage result in fires and explosions. No one in Massachusetts can forget the series of pipeline explosions in the Merrimack Valley that caused more than 80 fires and explosions, damaged 131 homes, forced the evacuation of 30,000 people, and killed an 18-year-old boy.
Compressor stations leak toxic vapors such as benzene, formaldehyde, and 1,3- butadiene that are proven causes of leukemia and lymphoma. Gas combustion generates particulate air pollution and oxides of nitrogen that cause more than 1,500 premature deaths in Massachusetts every year. The physicians who authored the recent New England Journal of Medicine article, “The False Promise of Natural Gas,” conclude that “natural” gas poses a grave hazard to human health.
Second, Reed says nothing about the great dangers that gas poses to the global climate. As much as 4 percent of all fracked gas is lost to leakage, and these leaks have contributed to sharp increases in atmospheric methane. Methane is a potent driver of global warming, with a heat-trapping potential 30-80 times greater than that of carbon dioxide. Still more methane escapes through the many thousands of leaks that riddle the nation’s gas pipelines. There are more than 16,000 leaks in Massachusetts alone. And even though gas does indeed burn cleaner than coal or oil, it is not a zero-emission fuel. When gas is burned in stoves and boilers, it generates carbon dioxide and contributes to global warming. In short, the claimed advantages of gas over coal and oil have been greatly exaggerated.
Third, Reed fails to mention that within three to five years it will be cheaper to generate electricity from renewables – from wind, water, and solar – than from gas or any other fossil fuel. Why? Because investment in renewables is increasing exponentially and the costs of producing energy from renewables are falling rapidly. We are very close to a tipping point here, and any investment in gas is therefore shortsighted, economically reckless, and at grave risk of becoming a stranded asset. Cold-climate heat pumps already reap as much savings as gas when switching from oil.
Finally, Reed ignores the glaring reality that practically none of the gas that goes through the Weymouth Compressor Station is destined to meet New England’s needs for energy or poor families’ need for affordable heat in winter. The Weymouth Compressor Station is being built not to serve New England, but to prepare gas for export to Canada and Europe. The bottom line is that the gas will go overseas, while the risks of lung disease, heart disease, cancer, and premature death will stay in Massachusetts. (This paragraph and the last paragraph were corrected to delete references suggesting National Grid has an ownership stake in the compressor station. Grid, in fact, says it has stated it does not need the station to meet the needs of its customers.)
Is this fair? Is this what we want?
One last thought: If the Weymouth Gas Compressor Station does indeed become a stranded asset, a white elephant, or if it should burn and explode, guess who will foot the bill for this useless piece of infrastructure. The answer is that it will be us – the ratepayers of Massachusetts. By any other name, this is taxation without representation.
Shame on you, Marcy Reed.
Regina LaRocque, Philip Landrigan, Brita Lundberg, Caren Solomon, Jim Recht, and Susan Racine are all members of Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility.
CLARIFICATION: After the publication of this op-ed, National Grid contacted CommonWealth to say it does not have an ownership stake in the Weymouth compressor station but does intend to be a customer of the Atlantic Bridge Project of which it is a part. National Grid has also said previously that it does not believe the compressor station is needed to meet its customers’ needs. The Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility insists Grid does have a small ownership stake in the larger project and does stand to benefit financially from it.