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Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline Route Moves North

The energy company wishing to build a natural gas pipeline from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts recently altered its route after political and public outcry.Kinder Morgan and its subsidiary Tennessee Gas now believe the best way to deliver fracked gas from the Marcellus Shale to distribution companies in New England is a route that goes through western Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire before reentering the commonwealth at its endpoint of Dracut, about 30 miles north of Boston. Allen Fore, the company’s vice president of public affairs, says adjusting based on public input is how the process is supposed to work.

“It still meets the commercial needs of the project which is servicing customers like Berkshire Gas and Columbia Gas, but also takes into account the unique environmental and other stakeholder concerns that are part of the siting process,” said Fore.

The new Northeast Energy Direct project combines the company’s New York and New Hampshire Powerline Alternatives outlined in pre-filing procedures with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Cheshire, Hancock, Lanesborough and Shelburne join Dalton, Hinsdale, Windsor and Peru as the western Massachusetts towns where the pipeline would run along NStar-owned utility line corridors. Carol Francesconi chairs Cheshire’s Select Board.

“It’s going to become a major concern, but I think we need more information before we can make any intelligent discussions or decisions about what we’re going to do or what’s going to be involved as far as Cheshire is concerned,” said Francesconi.

Kinder Morgan’s previous route would’ve sent a pipeline through southern Massachusetts including Lenox’s watershed. Lenox Select Chair Channing Gibson says the company responded to public and political opposition at the local, state and federal levels.

“I think it’s important for people to make their voices heard even when they feel as if it’s not going to matter,” said Gibson. 

With the goal of keeping the pipeline out of the town watershed, Gibson says Lenox is still considering legal representation either on its own or through a coalition called Northeast Energy Solutions.

“We do recognize that this means that some other towns and other landowners are going to be affected,” said Gibson.

Eleanor Tillinghast represents Green Berkshires, one of eight members of NE Energy Solutions. She says she wasn’t surprised by the route change given the drinking water and conservation land concerns that may have created stumbling blocks for Kinder Morgan in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission process.

“The issues that interest us, the issues on which we’re focusing remain,” Tillinghast said. “We’re still looking at whether or not this pipeline is needed and what would be the alternatives.”

A 36-inch pipeline has the capacity to carry 2.2 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day, an amount Kinder Morgan’s commercial customers say will lower energy costs throughout New England. A 30-inch pipe would carry 1.2 billion cubic feet. A decision on the size of the pipe is expected in 2015, according to Fore.

“It’ll be based upon our customers,” Fore said. “How much commitment do we have on it? We want to build enough for the long-term needs of the region, but we don’t want to overbuild.”

So far 12 local distribution companies or LDCs have reached agreements to be serviced by Kinder Morgan’s proposal, totaling 500,000 cubic feet of gas per day. Project opponents have raised concerns about whether the gas will be exported, which Fore says Kinder Morgan doesn’t have control over once delivered.

“That’s a possibility, but we require long-term commitments from credit-worthy customers to sign up for our project,” Fore said. “We don’t any of those in that business. Ours are LDCs. We expect power generation to be a part of that. We expect the state of Maine to be a part of that. Those are credit-worthy customers that can sign up for those long-term agreements. So we’re basing our project on those firm commitments that we can rely on to justify the expense and the impacts that a project like this with have.”

Fore says the New Hampshire route opens up potential service to new communities, something the company is talking with Liberty Utilities about.

In a statement, Massachusetts Governor-elect Charlie Baker, a Republican, says he will review the new proposal when he takes office in January. Baker opposed the original route. U.S. Democratic Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren have opposed building additional gas infrastructure.

Four-hundred-twenty-nine miles of pipeline would run through Pennsylvania and Broome, Chenango, Delaware, Schoharie, Albany and Rensselaer Counties potentially along the Constitution pipeline and utility lines in New York before entering Massachusetts. It would not run through Columbia County as originally proposed. Fore says this will be the last significant route change before heading to FERC. If federally approved, the company expects the $5 billion project to be in service by Nov. 2018.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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