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Kinder Morgan Holds Open House On Proposed Northeast Pipeline

Jim Levulis

Kinder Morgan, parent company of Tennessee Gas Pipeline, held one of 13 scheduled open houses across New England in Pittsfield last night. The purpose is to explain the company’s proposed $4 billion natural gas pipeline that is routed from Pennsylvania through New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Some have raised concerns about whether the project will export gas out of the United States.About 150 people showed up for what looked like a trade show Tuesday night. Those pulling into Berkshire Community College were welcomed by a nearly blinding billboard truck with rotating lit up messages explaining the New England Laborers union supports Kinder Morgan’s Northeast Energy Direct Project and its estimated 3,000 construction jobs over a two-year period. If the company goes with a 36-inch pipe, it could carry 2.2 billion cubic feet of fracked gas from the Marcellus Shale per day. A 30-inch pipe would carry 1.2 billion cubic feet. Kinder Morgan’s Vice President of Public Affairs Allen Fore says about a dozen local distribution companies, like Berkshire Gas and Liberty Utilities, have contracted with the project to carry 500 million cubic feet per day according toa company release.

Credit Jim Levulis / WAMC
A truck parked at the entrance to Berkshire Community College showed the New England Laborers union supports the proposed pipeline which is expected to create 3,000 construction jobs over roughly two years.

“What is the tipping point of what we need to have secure where we can justify the investment to build this project…that’s where we are right now,” Fore said. “Whether it’s 700 [million cubic feet per day] or 800, or somewhere in between…we need to get to that point for us to be comfortable with moving forward. With our additional customers that will be coming online I’m confident we are going to be at that point.”

That quantity disparity has people like Jane Winn of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team concerned gas from the project will be exported. For instance, Canadian-based Pieridae Energy recently applied with the U.S. Department of Energy to transport liquefied natural gas from a facility under development in Nova Scotia. The gas would come from the Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline in Maine, largely owned by Spectra Energy. That pipeline runs from Nova Scotia to a distribution hub in Dracut, Massachusetts where Kinder Morgan’s proposed pipeline would end. Here’s Winn.

“This isn’t about bringing gas to New England,” Winn said. “This is about making money for Kinder Morgan. Certainly we shouldn’t have a tariff charging all electric rate payers to bring gas if we aren’t even going to see a benefit.”

Fore says Kinder Morgan is building partly for future customer needs, including the state of Maine and Northeast electric generating companies that are relying more on natural gas as power plants like Vermont Yankee and Mount Tom shut down. While Kinder Morgan expects to announce further contracts, he says none are with current LNG-companies. He adds Kinder Morgan, the nation’s largest natural gas transporter, doesn’t build on speculation of future exporting companies signing onto a project.

“I don’t think anybody in our company could say with any confidence that any of them will,” said Fore.

A shift in December sent the route north into New Hampshire, co-locating with powerlines along 90 percent of the 430-mile pipeline. Nine new compressor stations are proposed, including three in New York’s Capital Region and two in western Massachusetts. Fore says the company typically buys 25- to 100-acre parcels to create a buffer zone against future development.

“You want to anticipate that over the long-term so that you have a big enough parcel so that your buildings, which are in the center of that, are an even further distance away from any residences,” Fore said. “That’s primarily because of any noise that might come from the facility.”

Bob Connors is the co-founder of Stop NY Fracked Gas Pipeline, which is one of more than two dozen member groups of the StopNED Coalition.

“I think eventually we’ll be able to unite in such a fashion that the politicians who approve the funding for these regulatory bodies will have to…we can only hope they’ll listen to the public,” said Connors.

News that Kinder Morgan has invested $20,000 in 1Berkshire, the county’s economic development agency, surprised many, although 1Berkshire says the membership doesn’t mean it has taken a stance on the project. Fore says it’s something Kinder Morgan has done in multiple chambers of commerce.

“Which is be involved in the community, not just passing through,” said Fore.

Since announcing the original project about a year ago the proposal has received resistance from many including Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey.

“We fully anticipated that there would be a lot of passion,” Fore said. “Any company that comes into any part of the country and anticipates that there’s not going to be does so at their own peril.”

Kinder Morgan expects to apply with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this fall. The proposed construction start date is early 2017 with an expected in-service date of November 2018. Once reaching the final step, Fore says FERC’s Commission has never denied a Kinder Morgan project.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant 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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