The proposed Northeast Expansion Project natural gas pipeline that would pass through many northern Massachusetts towns, including Groton, has been folded into a new, larger planned project by the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company. The new proposal, “Northeast Energy Direct,” combines the Northeast Expansion Project with another planned pipeline from the Marcellus Shale gas fields of Pennsylvania north to Wright, N.Y. and from there to the Dracut terminus or other Tennessee Gas Pipeline locations.
The proposed pipeline from New York to Dracut is essentially unchanged. The addition to the project adds a 117-mile long link from the gas fields that currently supply most of New England’s natural gas, and two collection loops into the gas fields themselves. Much of the gas from the Marcellus Shale deposits is obtained by hydraulically fracturing — fracking — underground rock deposits to release encapsulated gas.
“We’re calling it — and this just occurred this week — we’re calling it the Northeast Energy Direct Project. And this stems from the fact that when we looked at the project as proposed, from Wright, New York over to Dracut, we’ve also had interest expressed in the Marcellus Shale area and connecting the Tennessee Gas existing “300” line in Pennsylvania with the Tennessee Gas “200” line in New York,” Richard Wheatley, Kinder Morgan (parent company of Tennessee Gas Pipeline) Director of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs, said May 30, last Friday.
“There is still the Wright to Dracut piece of it, but you’re going to see a little bit different view on the map, a generalized route. Again, the routing is generalized because we are still going through the process of seeking to obtain permission for surveys from land owners,” he said.
“We’re looking at a project that would bring an estimated capacity of a much as 2.2 billion cubic feet to the Northeast. That’s roughly equivalent to serving about 1.5 million additional households with this additional capacity. The project is estimated to generate an additional $25M to local taxing bodies in Massachusetts,” Wheatley said.
The proposed timeline for the expanded project remains the same, with a goal of delivering natural gas by November, 2018.
Speaking the day after the Groton Board of Selectmen conducted an information meeting on the pipeline that fielded many questions but few answers on the pipeline, Wheatley took some pains to explain his company’s pipeline routing process.
“The routing is not set in stone. The routing that you see on a local, county map is a proposed routing. What we’re dealing with now is generalized routing — it’s not final routing by any means — it’s not even what we would call “preferred routing.” We have to go through a number of studies as part of the FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) process and those studies really start with the fact that we need to obtain the survey permissions (from local landowners) in order to determine where the pipeline might best be installed. We are determining through these outreach meetings and in our consultations with officials and agencies exactly where the sensitive areas are, where the conservation areas are, where the agricultural easements that may already be in place are, sensitive cultural areas such as Native American sites, historical sites, and so on.”
“In all these cases, we seek to not create disturbances, to the extent that we can — we seek to avoid these areas entirely if we can. So it’s a situation where we understand the concerns, we’ve listening and we’re learning by these outreach meetings and by meeting with officials in the towns and municipalities and counties. ”
“Then what we hope to do is get the survey permissions and physically be able to get a better idea of the general surface facilities and any situations that may apply — sensitive, historic, archaeological, wetlands … All of that has to be factored in. Then the FERC process, once you get into the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process, all the issues that have a bearing on wildlife habitat, on wetlands, on socio-economic issues, on cultural sites, on sensitive conservation areas — all of that is factored in through the NEPA process and is thoroughly investigated by FERC and by any state agency that might be working on a cooperating basis with the Federal agencies,” he said.
Along the proposed New York to Dracut route, 37% of landowners have signed survey permission forms, so far, Wheatley said.
The next Groton meeting on the pipeline is set for June 23, when representatives from Kinder Morgan will be available to answer questions on the project. The meeting will take place at 7 p.m. in the Lawrence Academy auditorium.