In this 2014 file photo, steel pipe slated to become part of a natural gas pipeline in Lincoln is shown. Credit: Nick Sambides Jr. / BDN

ROCKLAND, Maine — A proposal from Summit Natural Gas of Maine to expand service to the midcoast faces criticism from those who say the project is a step back for the state in its goal toward a clean-energy future.

The $90 million project would extend the company’s existing infrastructructure to service communities in Knox and Waldo counties by late 2022. The midcoast does not currently have natural gas service, but at a virtual forum on the project Tuesday night, dozens in the region said they don’t want it.

“I find what is being proposed both morally and ethically wrong. We cannot be pursuing projects that we know will actively contribute to climate change,” Amy Files, of Rockland, said. “It’s common sense that if we’re working to phase out fossil fuels we can’t be at the same time building a new fossil fuel infrastructure.”

Residents from Winterport to Thomaston spoke out at Tuesday night’s forum, which Rockland officials hosted to hear more about the project and the communities it would affect. Summit Natural Gas officials answered questions during a presentation on the project, but the meeting was largely dominated by more than two hours of comment, mostly from those against it.

While natural gas is touted as a “relatively clean burning fossil fuel,” according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, opponents say it is still a fossil fuel that contributes to emissions.

“Swapping one fossil fuel for another is not the solution to climate change,” Lincolnville resident Josh Gerritson said.

Several state lawmakers oppose the project, including Rep. Vicki Doudera, D-Camden; Rep. Valli Geiger, D-Rockland; and Sen. David Miramant, D-Camden. The plan goes against the state’s recently released climate action plan, they said. That plan includes a goal of reducing carbon emissions 45 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050.

“I feel like it’s a giant step backward for midcoast Maine,” Doudera said.

The few who spoke in favor of the project Tuesday were largely connected to Maine labor unions, whose members could potentially work on the project.

“Natural gas is here,” Chris Tucker, president of the Local 327 Laborers Union, said. “A lot of people don’t like it but it’s an option for the people that do.”

Summit estimates that construction of the project would create about 100 jobs. While most would be temporary, Summit representatives said Tuesday that some could be permanent.

Opponents of the project also expressed concerns about fracking, a controversial drilling process to extract natural gas from the ground. It is not known how much of the gas Summit distributes is from fracking.

“We cannot tell you what percentage of our gas is fracked,” Lizzy Reinholt, Summit Natural Gas Senior Director of Sustainability and Corporate Affairs, said.

The project requires state and local permits, since pipelines will be laid beneath roadways.

If granted, Summit hopes to commence construction in Rockland next year. By 2026, the company hopes to provide natural gas service to upwards of 6,500 customers along the U.S. 1 corridor from Belfast to Thomaston.