Questions remain after COG pipeline meeting
The Franklin Regional Council of Governments and its Planning Board, along with the nearly 300 people attending their meeting Thursday, got to pose a series of questions to Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. spokesmen, yet questions remained about TGP’s proposed project.
The two-hour long session, during which four representatives from TGP parent Kinder Morgan responded to audience questions submitted in writing, echoed many of the comments already made by the company about its $4 billion project being in the “very early stages,” with plenty of opportunities for engaging the public and adhering to state and federal authorities.
But it also provided a better picture of the project, slated to cross nine Franklin County towns on its path between Pennsylvania and Dracut, north of Lowell.
Right of way manager Jim Hartman described three levels of survey work — civil, environmental and archeological — now being done on the land on which some of the 1,650 property owners have granted permission, requiring a “cut line” initially using a machete through forest or vegetation to get a line of sight and then marking wetlands, endangered species, streams and during the second phase.
But project manager Mark Hamarich said that the company intends to proceed with plans to file a preliminary application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission next month even without additional landowner approval for surveys.
Hamarich also described the “horizontal drilling” workers would use to drill beneath the Deerfield and Connecticut rivers, which he said has been done successfully in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and added that the pipeline, if built, would be used only for transport of natural gas “in its gaseous form,” without emission during regular operation of any chemicals associated with hydraulic fracturing of shale.
Company spokesmen said repeatedly that 60 percent of the natural gas that is distributed through the 600 miles of Tenneesee Gas pipeline already in Massachusetts is so-called “fracked gas,” and that percentage is projected to increase dramatically in the decades ahead.
Asked whether Kinder Morgan considers this project as a fait accomplis, spokesman Allen Fore said, “All we can do is apply for permits.”
Although the company is still negotiating final contracts with end users of the gas — such as Berkshire Gas Co. and Northeast Utilities — which he said are essential to going ahead with the project, Fore and marketing manager Curtis Cole said they are confident there is enough of a customer base — with no foreign liquefied natural gas projects on the list, yet.
“We don’t have anyone willing to do that now,” Cole said. But when it comes to demand from within New England, he emphasized, “We definitely have the market for this project. ... We have no capacity. We’re at 100 percent full. We can’t move any more gas than we’re already moving.”
Cole said additional gas capacity is needed not only to lower New England’s energy costs — which he said are the highest in North America — but also to provide stability to the region’s electric generation system.
Fore said the pipeline, now projected to be 30 inches in diameter and provide 1.2 billion cubic feet of gas, would provide $25 million in local taxes in Massachusetts, but he also added that because of depreciation of the pipeline, that revenue level would decrease.
A year after filing its preliminary application in September, Kinder Morgan plans to begin negotiating with individual landowners before the end of 2015 and file its formal FERC application in September 2015, with final action by FERC expected by the fall of 2016 and be in operation late the following fall.
Fore and Hamarich said the exact location of the pipeline’s path, which now is slated to go through Ashfield, Conway, Shelburne, Deerfield, Montague, Erving, Northfield, Warwick and Orange, will likely be altered through negotiations over the next year, and that the company’s final application will analyze alternatives.
About 30 miles of the path now is along powerline rights of way, Hamarich said.
Speaking after the meeting, regional planning Director Margaret Sloan said, “We still have unanswered questions,” and will be compiling a list of additional questions, beyond the 17 posed to the Kinder Morgan representatives, that it intends to send to the company.
In addition, Sloan said, the planning board and the COG will be preparing comments for Gov. Deval Patrick “because there are clear energy policy implications of having this pipeline in Massachusetts, and the governor weighs in on that,” and she added that it may be helpful to also find out the position of the gubernatorial candidates before the November election.
“One of the questions we’re still not clear on and we’re hoping to be made clear on is whether this would go through the (Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act) process,” said Sloan.
Amy Mahler, a spokeswoman for the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said Friday that while her office can’t comment on an application that hasn’t yet been filed with federal authorities, “the company said it will coordinate its federal Environmental Impact Review with state MEPA filings.” She added that her office has been in touch with Kinder Morgan over land access issues” for doing survey on state land, which it hasn’t yet authorized, and has been highlighting environmentally sensitive areas.
COG Executive Director Linda Dunlavy, also speaking after the Thursday night meeting, said “I think we got some answers,” but added, “some answers still seemed a bit vaguer than what we’d want.”
In addition, she said, it’s unclear whether it better serves the region’s interests to take a position on the project or remain neutral to get as much information and represent the interests of towns along the route.
Since dozens of questions submitted by audience members could not be dealt with, some of whom reacted vociferously to questions posed and answers given during the two-hour session, the COG offered to post them on its www.frcog.org website, along with answers that Fore committed to provide.
On the Web: http://bit.ly/1zd6yvV
You can reach Richie Davis at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 269