Mass. Lawmakers Want FERC To Postpone Process In Pipeline Review

Jul 29, 2015

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission held a scoping meeting on Kinder Morgan’s proposed Northeast Energy Direct natural gas pipeline in Pittsfield Tuesday. State lawmakers are calling on the agency to give those who may be impacted by the project more time to review it.

Hundreds of people filled the Taconic High School auditorium with some 80 people signing up to present oral comments to FERC representatives. The agency’s John Peconom presided over the meeting.

“We are from Washington,” Peconom said. “I’m not going to sit up here and tell you I know everything about this area. We depend on your input and comments to help us learn about this area and understand the issues unique to this area.”

Peconom says FERC will use the comments to create an environmental impact study of Kinder Morgan’s proposed 418-mile pipeline that would go through Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Earlier this month, the owners of Tennessee Gas downsized its plans from a 36-inch pipe to 30 inches. It could carry 1.3 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day, compared to a 2.2-billion capacity with the larger pipe. Last year the company signed contracts with distribution companies accounting for roughly 500 million cubic feet of gas per day. Allen Fore is Kinder Morgan’s vice president of public affairs.

“We’ve been consistent in our message to the public in that it’s going to be 30 or 36-inch up to a maximum of 2.2 billion [cubic feet], but we won’t build that if we don’t have the customer interest to do that,” Fore said. “So where we are now, the contracts we have and others that we may get from the state of Maine and power generation we think we’ll be in a good place and we’ll have enough capacity to address the short-term and long-term needs of the Northeast for natural gas.”

On July 24, Kinder Morgan filed a report with thousands of pages of information. With that in mind, Massachusetts Senate President Stan Rosenberg, Senator Ben Downing and Representatives Gailanne Cariddi, Stephen Kulik and Susannah Whipps-Lee are asking FERC to postpone the scoping process and extend the public comment period by 60 days. Representative Paul Mark also signed the letter to FERC which he read at the meeting.

“Without a restarting of this process we believe that our constituents who would be affected by this project will be unable to offer full and meaningful testimony and comments on a project which threatens both the environmental health and quality of life in our region,” said Mark.

The pipe would go through watersheds in Hinsdale, Peru, Windsor and Dalton. John Bartels, chair of Dalton’s Select Board, says construction work and the pipe could impact drinking water for 50,000 people in those towns and in Lenox, Richmond and Pittsfield. Bartels says Dalton has drafted an alternate route through the town.

“This alternative route avoids our watershed, reservoirs, public water supply wells, populated areas of town and a major road crossing,” said Bartels.

Others expressed concerns over noise, light and emissions from a proposed compressor station in Windsor, claiming it will drop property values and disrupt the town’s defining natural landscapes. Douglas McNally is a Windsor selectman.

“We question the placement of a large industrial complex in a community where the next largest business is a general store with one gas pump,” said McNally.

A compressor station is also proposed in New York’s Rensselaer County. Fore says the stations, which the company doesn’t expect will exceed 41,000 horsepower, are needed to move the gas along the line.

“Part of it is a landowner saying ‘I will sell you this amount of property,’” Fore said. “Then you look at factors around there. You do try locate in areas where there is less residential development or less planned residential development.”

Fore says the company’s compressor stations adhere to state regulations and in Massachusetts residential areas have developed right next to them. Adam Lupino is the policy director for the New England region of the Laborers’ International Union of North America. He says the organizations’ 65,000 members and 52 local unions are in full support of the project and the 3,000 jobs it’s expected to create.

“This project represents the promise of good, family-supporting jobs for the region,” Lupino said. “As consumers it insures a cheaper, cleaner and reliable energy source.”

Kinder Morgan plans to file its formal application with FERC in October.

Jean Atwater-Williams of Sandisfield says Kinder Morgan’s Connecticut Expansion Project, which runs through the southwestern Massachusetts town, is illegally separated from the Northeast Energy Direct Project. She cited a June 2014 decision in Delaware Riverkeeper Network v. FERC and intervener Tennessee Gas which found that FERC impermissibly segmented the environmental reviews of the company’s Northeast Upgrade Project and three other regional proposals.

“It is therefore FERC’s duty under federal law to immediately deny the Connecticut Expansion application and then require Kinder Morgan to withdraw this NED pre-filing until such time as they can prepare a pre-filing that legally and appropriately addresses the project in its entirety,” said Atwater-Williams.

Vincent DeVito, an attorney for Northeast Energy Solutions, which is reviewing whether NED is needed, says Kinder Morgan’s Northeast and Connecticut projects are illegally segmented. Fore says the Connecticut Expansion, which has not been fully approved, is a completely different project.