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Gas Pipeline

Officials seek answers

Even as environmental groups begin weighing in on plans for a Tennessee Gas Pipeline planned through Franklin and Berkshire counties, regional planners and state legislators are seeking answers about the process for siting a 179-mile conduit between Wright, N.Y., and Dracut, just north of Lowell.

Officials in nine Franklin County towns — Ashfield, Conway, Shelburne, Deerfield, Montague, Erving, Northfield, Warwick and Orange — have been asking about that process since receiving correspondence in early January from Kinder Morgan, which owns Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., alerting them that its consultants would be approaching landowners along the path to survey their property.

Area legislators met late Wednesday afternoon with Kinder Morgan representatives to discuss the pipeline proposal, the process for which Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, said his staff has been researching.

Kinder Morgan Public Affairs Director Allen Fore told legislators this “very preliminary” phase of the process would result in a refinement of the route, and would be followed, in a matter of months, with briefing sessions for selectmen’s boards that have requested them.

Assuming that commitments from potential customers are forthcoming and the project proceeds, legislators were told, the company also plans to hold public information meetings in the region, and the process would be subject to state review under the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act process, with the state Department of Public Utilities playing a role.

The DPU could become involved if property owners deny access for survey work to proceed, as has already occurred in Montague.

Kulik said it appears that where the pipeline route would affect state-owned conservation land or land on which the state holds development restrictions, there would need to be two-thirds approval of the state House and Senate under Massachusetts Article 97.

Kulik earlier in the week had said of the company’s failure to be forthcoming with details of its plans, “In the absence of good information, people suspect a lot of things.” But following Wednesday afternoon’s briefing, he said it appears those details will be forthcoming.

Not everyone has had that kind of direct contact with pipeline proponents, however.

“We’re all sort of scratching our heads,” Franklin Regional Planning Board Chairman Jerry Lund said Wednesday, following a board executive committee meeting this week during which planners looked over U.S. Geological Survey maps to better understand the ramifications of the vague map that TGP presented the towns for its route.

While the company’s map would seem to be following east-west electricity transmission lines, Lund said, it “isn’t clear” what the thinking was for its path across the northern and eastern portions of the county.

“It seems they drew a line across there without any clue of geography or topography,” he said, adding that regional planners were only able to guess at what the Houston-based pipeline company had in mind. Without the company being more forthcoming, he said, planners are looking into how much say state environmental agencies will have in overseeing what is likely to be a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission-controlled review process.

“If they want to plant them up here, good luck,” he said, adding that plans to build a line to transport “fracked” gas through the region will likely “stir up a hornet’s nest,” especially if the purpose of building the line is to send gas obtained through the controversial hydrofracking process to the East Coast for export.

“If they don’t want a big, nasty fight on their hands, it would behoove them to have the regional planning agencies brought up to date.”

But TGP spokesman Richard Wheatley says no information will be released until completion of TGP’s “open season” for the Northeast Expansion, which began Feb. 13 and continues through March 28, for potential gas suppliers and customers to contract with TGP for the what is an “open access pipeline” connecting various suppliers and users.

Those potential customers, according to the company’s formal “open season” notice, includes local distribution companies, electric generators, industrial end users and developers of liquefied natural gas projects in New England and Atlantic Canada. The planned pipeline would be sized to provide between approximately 600 million cubic feet and 2.2 billion cubic feet a day.

No formal application has been filed yet, but TGP proposes to have its Northeast Expansion Project in place by November 2018 “in response to the increasing demand for natural gas and related transmission services into the Northeast.”

Wheatley said, “It’s going to be an ongoing process. It’s in its embryonic stages,” with environmental review planned once the formal FERC permit application is filed.

That review of “sensitive areas, archeological sites and cultural sites,” he said, will be part of a “very comprehensive permitting process” to meet federal, state and local requirements, and has already begun internally.

The pipeline is part of an effort by the New England states to expand their gas line infrastructure through expanding the size of existing pipes and laying new ones, state Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard Sullivan recently told Statehouse News Service.

“Certainly the industry has begun to talk about pipeline expansion. But that is not something that is going to happen overnight. It is obviously a very complicated process in terms of any kind of siting or any kind of permitting,” Sullivan said after testifying to a House and Senate Ways and Means budget panel this week.

Among the ideas being floated for the TGP are legs that would extend from Franklin County northward to Keene, Jaffrey and New Ipswich, N.H., the New Hampshire Business Review reported last July.

On the Web: http://bit.ly/1orLudF

You can reach Richie Davis at rdavis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269

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