Warning natural gas lines below do not dig sign on two yellow poles. Future excavation is prohibited and this sign on a pole warns against future digging.

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Environmental groups say fracking for natural gas can lead to freshwater pollution, as well as fragmentation of forests, wilderness and grasslands. (Jason/Adobe Stock)March 3, 2021

ROCKLAND, Maine – Environmental groups are celebrating an announcement by Summit Natural Gas that it’s withdrawing plans for a Midcoast pipeline expansion from Belfast through Thomaston.

As the state moves toward a clean-energy economy, said Sarah Leighton, director of the Sierra Club’s Maine chapter, there’s no reason to invest in more fossil-fuel infrastructure. She pointed out that fracked gas releases nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide into the atmosphere, as well as methane. The latter is a greenhouse gas some 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide, measured over a 20-year period.

“It’s bad for our health,” she said. “There have been studies to show that kids that grow up with homes with gas stoves are much more likely to have asthma than those who don’t. It kills our trees, and also doesn’t make sense financially.”

More than 270 Midcoast Mainers signed a petition opposing the pipeline expansion, and more than 150 turned out at a Rockland City Council meeting to voice concerns. In its announcement, Summit Natural Gas said it cannot go forward with the pipeline plans without a consensus about the region’s energy future.

According to Leighton, the cost of heating the average home using fracked gas is roughly $2,500 a year, while a solar-powered heat pump for the same home would cost a little more than $1,000 per year. She predicted that Maine and the rest of the nation eventually will stop using natural gas – and households that do would need to upgrade.

“As we move to a renewable-energy economy, all electricity is going to be powered by renewable-energy sources,” she said, “and we can only capitalize on that if we’re all on electric.”

Proponents of natural gas have said the plan would have reduced some greenhouse-gas emissions and cut energy bills for businesses and families. However, Leighton said other, more environmentally friendly and cost-effective power sources are available.