Barrington board urges Gov. Baker to consider public health risks of fracked natural gas pipelines

By Terry Cowgill, Berkshire Edge
June 3, 2017

Great Barrington — Joining 22 other communities across the state, the Great Barrington Board of Health has signed and endorsed a strongly worded letter to Gov. Charlie Baker concerning the health impacts of any new or expanded fracked natural gas infrastructure in the state.

The letter cites state health commissioner Monica Bharel’s goals for her agency, which include combating health disparities, promoting health and making “the best use of our resources in that endeavor.”

“We are concerned that the rush to develop fracked gas infrastructure is in direct conflict with those goals,” the letter reads. “It increases health disparities and makes poor use of our healthcare resources by potentially creating public health problems instead of preventing them.”

The letter originated from the Sierra Club, a preeminent national environmental group, and was endorsed by both the Massachusetts Medical Society and the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards.

“The biggest issue is the link to fracked gas,” said Michael Lanoue, who chairs the Great Barrington health board. “That’s the number-one issue that resonated with me.”

Lanoue noted at Thursday’s board meeting (June 1) that “other towns have signed onto it” and the letter “sends the right message. It’s not overreaching.”

Fracking is the process of injecting liquids, including potentially toxic chemicals, at high pressure into subterranean rocks and boreholes in an effort to force open existing fissures and extract oil or gas.

The letter makes a compelling case that the extraction and transport of fracked oil and natural gas poses a threat to public health. While extraction via fracking “is widely recognized” to cause health problems because of the air and water pollution it causes where the drilling is done, “many people are not aware that the toxins and carcinogens that travel with the gas … can be emitted when there are releases of gas unintentional or intentional, anywhere along the pipeline infrastructure,” the letter states.

The topic is of particular interest to residents and activists in Berkshire County, where energy companies have been active in proposing and building natural gas pipeline projects. Most recently, protesters were arrested last month in the Otis State Forest, where workers for Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, a unit of Kinder Morgan, have been using heavy equipment for tree cutting in preparation for the construction of a controversial pipeline extension to Connecticut.

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