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August 22, 2013

Trip fuels thoughts about natural gas use

Cooperstown Crier

---- — One of the things we always enjoy when we have the opportunity to travel outside our little corner of the world is the chance to explore places we have never visited before.

While on our recent sojourn we visited the New Richmond Bridge Park located at the historic village of New Richmond in the northwestern part of Allegan County, Mich. The centerpiece of this historic park is a fully restored swing bridge that spans 400 feet across the Kalamazoo River. This bridge, which was originally built in 1879, was restored to its original splendor in 2004. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and connects park property on both the north and south sides of the river.

Needless to say, we found the park most interesting and are somewhat chagrined to admit in all the years we spent in Allegan County at the family cottage on Lake Michigan we had never before even seen the swing bridge. And we must admit that we were also taken with the sign posted prominently at the park that read:

“Revenue derived from oil gas and mineral production from state owned lands provides funding for this public recreation site. Funding is made possible through a grant provided to the citizens of the State of Michigan by the: Michigan Natural Resource Trust Fund, Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment.”

We could but conclude that development of natural resources in Michigan results in revenue used to benefit not only residents of Michigan, but visitors from Ohio and New York as well.

Thus we find it doubly distressing to have returned home to discover that battle is still being waged here over the benefits of natural gas development. In fact, we were completely taken aback by the comments made regarding the possibility of both Otsego County and Bassett Healthcare being able to use compressed natural gas in order to save energy costs. According to an article in the Aug. 14 edition of The Daily Star, those opposed to such a move are on the record of saying that there would be “... fears if Bassett becomes a customer of Boston-based XNG (Xpress Natural Gas) it would lead to more businesses and homeowners converting to natural gas in Cooperstown, with a network of underground feeder pipelines needed to supply them.”

Now we have to admit that compressed natural gas is a new concept for us. Thus we went to the Xpress Natural Gas website to learn more about the operation. From what we read, the fears of pipelines by those opposed can be laid to rest. Since the gas is seemingly only available to large volume energy users, it would be, as far as we could tell, most unlikely that small business and homeowners could benefit from the program. Therefore, we rather suspect that should these two large volume energy users think the program would be to their advantage, no underground feeder pipelines would be involved.

Now we must admit that we have no idea if the use of compressed natural gas would be beneficial to these organizations. But it would seem somewhat short-sighted to demand that such gas be dismissed out of hand, citing such concerns as demand for natural gas would result in more companies wanting to drill for gas here and problems with not being able to stop methane emissions and migration into water supplies even though the gas would not be produced in this area.

Plus, what consideration should be given to potential savings to be realized from using gas instead of oil? If Bassett can save a half a million dollars in energy costs why would it not be a prudent thing to do. The money saved on energy costs could be spent providing health care for patients. If we had to choose, we would rather the money be spent on health care than on energy. To think otherwise makes little sense to us.

Likewise, we would tend to think that if such energy use would allow similar savings for the county that would be a plus for everyone living in the county. To argue that there is no need to exercise fiscal responsibility in any governmental entity makes little, if any sense, in today’s economy. And to even suggest that there is no need to investigate possible savings would seem to be utterly ridiculous.

We must say that we are also puzzled by the letter to the editor that appeared in last week’s paper and seemed to indicate that the proximity of pipelines in an area would increase the probability of drilling for natural gas. In fact the writer declares that “Pipelines make it all happen.” Yet when we asked our very own family geophysicist if she ever considered location of pipelines when deciding where a gas well should be drilled, we were told, after she stopped laughing, absolutely not. As we suspected decisions on where to drill for natural gas are dictated by the geology, not the pipelines, of the area.

Besides, according to our sources, there are more than 800 miles of natural gas lines in Otsego County, including a 30” pipeline and an 8” pipeline. So if all it takes to drill for natural gas is to have pipelines, we would think the drilling would have started long since. And that does not seem to be the case.

Quite frankly, we have no idea what decisions will be made in the future regarding pipelines, compressed natural gas or natural gas drilling. But we would hope that everyone would support the need to review and consider new technology and techniques before asking others to dismiss them. To us to do so seems quite beyond the pale.

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