Friday, December 3, 2010
There’s a story behind Carlisle’s natural gas pipeline
The solid line shows the pipeline’s route along Carlisle’s border.
(TGP map adapted by Marjorie Johnson)
Many may be surprised to learn that there are approximately five and a half miles of high-pressure 24-inch-diameter pipeline buried within Carlisle. Bright orange markers near the west and north edges of town mark the 50-foot right-of-way for the natural gas transmission line owned by the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company (TGP). For the most part, the conduit hugs Carlisle’s border, but if it were not for the efforts of residents in the 1960s, the pipeline would have carved a swath through the center of town.
The tragic gas pipeline explosion in California last summer has raised questions about the safety of buried natural gas pipelines. Maintenance of Carlisle’s pipeline will soon include automated inline tools to check the pipe’s condition.
Surveyors appeared unannounced in 1967
Carlisleans here in the sixties remember the saga surrounding the construction of this pipeline. It began in 1967 when the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company planned to extend its pipeline in order to ease the winter peak demand for natural gas. It would run from the new liquefied natural gas plant in Hopkinton to Dracut. Using the original plan that brought the pipeline through the middle of Carlisle, the company began surveying properties and thus began a huge uproar about the rights of the company to survey private property without any permission from land owners.
One of these land owners who spotted uninvited people on his property was A. E. “Ben” Benfield of West Street, who owned large properties off West and South Streets and is often referred to as the “father of conservation” in Carlisle. Ben’s son, Michael, told the Mosquito that his father would often let people come and picnic and walk on his fields, but did not welcome those who did not have the respect to ask first. For this “unforgiveable mistake,” Ben kicked the surveyors off his property and continued his opposition to the pipeline by investing in 1,000 shares of stock in TGP’s then parent company Tenneco. He then wrote to the company (probably the Chairman of the Board of Directors, according to Michael) and told the Chairman how “we” should run “our” company.
In early 1967, according to the Concord Journal (The Carlisle Mosquito did not begin until 1972), a pipeline spokesman told the Carlisle Board of Selectmen that the planned route was “across swampland from the Concord line, east to the intersection of Cross and South Streets, across Westford and Rockland Roads and through Tophet Swamp to the Billerica line,” essentially cutting a large swath dividing the town in half. This raised an uproar from the town’s citizens and in February 1967 the Selectmen held their meeting in Union Hall to accommodate the 200 residents who attended. Many residents complained about the damage to their property caused by the surveyors. Photographs show many trees were cut and large areas cleared. When the company spokesman was asked how they would handle the ledge in the area now known as the Conant Land, he replied that he had no idea. The spokesman also said that some blasting would be necessary, but the streams and water flow would not be upset, since no fill would be used when burying the pipe. The necessary valves would be beautified with shrubs. The pipes were to carry natural gas with a pressure in excess of 500 pounds per square inch.
Alternatives proposed and rejected; town sues
One suggestion proposed was to construct the pipeline along the spur of the New Haven, New York and Hartford railroad line. This idea was rejected.
The Selectmen appointed a committee headed by Farnum Smith to study the pipeline issue. In April of 1967 the committee and Selectmen were approached by the company with a proposed alternate route nearer the town borders. The committee voted unanimously to refuse this offer, saying that there would be no benefit to the town to have the pipeline and that it would adversely affect the rural and residential character of the town.
These protests resulted in the town suing the company. The Boston Globe (Feb. 24, 1967) reported that 2,500 Carlisle residents, acting “through Selectmen Daniel Bickford, J. Arthur Taylor and James Davis, ... charged that the State Department of Public Utilities acted illegally by granting the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company permission to enter on town and private land in Carlisle and adjoining towns, to survey a route for the proposed 35-mile pipeline.” The suit charged that building the pipeline “would result in cutting down many trees, defacing land and damaging the open spaces and rural appearance which the town seeks to preserve.”
Route moved to the town border
In March 1967, the Sudbury newspaper reported that the State Senate and House of Representatives ordered the Attorney General to investigate Carlisle’s complaints. The 1967 Report of the Board of Selectmen states that during the past year they had spent “considerable time and effort on the issue of a gas transmission line ….The Town became involved in numerous law actions and proceedings” over this matter, until a compromise route was chosen, moving the construction of the pipeline as close to the town line as feasible.
In October 1967, the Selectmen were considering the compromise route offered by the company. The following February, the Concord Journal reported that the original route was denied by the Federal Power Commission and that in “Houston the TGP and Tenneco were considering a $20,000 contribution to Carlisle to further conservation and improve its image in Carlisle.” The Mosquito was not able to determine if this gift was ever made.
In April 1968 the Board of Selectmen heard concerns from the Cranberry Bog owners that the pipeline construction could disturb the flooded areas and damage the crop, but the Selectmen said that the Federal Power Commission had approved the route and they had no bargaining power. But by July 1968, with construction underway, it was reported that the Bog area would be done first so as not to damage the crop. The pipe was to be buried five feet under any wetlands and would proceed at a rate of 4,000 feet of pipe per day once the construction was underway.
The 1968 Town Report states that the gas pipeline siting along the edge of town did “the minimum of damage to the esthetic and real values of the property.” In July 1969 the Selectmen received a letter from TGP thanking the officials and townspeople for their cooperation. Art Taylor, who was a Selectman during the pipeline controversy, remembers the TGP company helicopter landing in his yard at 621 West Street and taking the Selectmen on an aerial review of the final pipeline route.
Today, the pipeline enters the town at the border with Acton near Woodland Road and follows the town line north, going through the western part of the Carlisle Pines State Forest and crossing the Cranberry Bog. It continues northeast along the edge of the Great Brook Farm State Park, crossing into Billerica.
Benefits to the town
The “Pipeline Trail” at the Cranberry Bog is often the only way residents become aware of the pipeline. Residents have enjoyed the cleared pipeline for hiking, jogging, horseback riding and skiing. However, some areas that have been recently brush-cut are difficult to walk on and one resident who tried to walk the entire length of the pipeline easement found his way interrupted in places by deep swampland.
According to Carlisle Treasurer Larry Barton, the state has assessed the Carlisle section of the pipeline easement at $1,230,000 and last year the town received $17,984 in property tax revenue from the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company.
Does the pipeline bring gas to Carlisle? National Grid told the Mosquito that its 680 gas customers in Carlisle get gas from an integrated distribution system in Everett, adding that most of the gas used in Carlisle probably comes from the TGP line although he quipped that not every molecule of gas is traceable.
Pipeline safety issues, inspections
The pipeline explosion in California is still under investigation and a cause has not been determined. The gas in the TGP line is odorized and a leak would have the same smell as the gas in the home – only weaker. The company lists other signs of a leak: a blowing or hissing sound, dust blowing from a hole, blowing or bubbling water and dead vegetation in the easement. The orange markers have emergency numbers to call.
When Carlisle’s welded-steel pipeline was first installed, the procedure followed was that the property would be inspected twice a week by helicopter. Today it is inspected from the air monthly to check for encroachment of buildings or trees – also for dead plants which might have been killed by a gas leak. The company says that the major cause of pipeline damage is from homeowners or construction workers who unknowingly damage the pipeline. Anyone digging should always call DigSafe before doing any excavation.
The pipeline area is also inspected by vehicle and on foot. Every few years the right of way is sprayed to kill poison ivy to protect the workers who clear the area of brush. The most recent spraying took place in 2008.
According to a spokesman, TGP has a comprehensive program for inspecting the pipelines. He said that there is no defined lifetime on buried pipes, and that there have been no failures due to the age of the pipe on the TGP system. TGP said the lines installed in our area would have been coated with an epoxy to reduce corrosion. There have been no recent diggings or excavations in Carlisle by TGP, but in 1980 a rectifier was installed in a section of pipe near the Chelmsford border as part of a cathodic protection system to prevent corrosion of the pipe. TGP explains that the major cause of corrosion of underground metal pipes is the discharge of electric current. In a cathodic system, “direct current is discharged into the soil through metal or graphite rods (anodes); the current then returns to the pipeline and prevents corrosion.”
Inline inspection tools known as “pigs” are used in nearly all the pipelines and have been used on Carlisle’s pipelines since 1993. Intelligent inline tools are planned for next year. The launchers and receivers have been installed from Hopkinton to Dracut, including Carlisle. These tools will enable remote computerized readings of the conditions of the pipeline. More information about the pipeline system can be found online at the TGP’s parent company website: www.elpaso.com. ∆
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