Pipeline official grapples with criticism of project

 

Greenfield Recorder
By RICHIE DAVIS
Recorder Staff
Thursday, July 30, 2015
(Published in print: Friday, July 31, 2015)

As hundreds of area residents sweltered Wednesday night in the Greenfield Middle School auditorium, many of them railing against Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s proposed Northeast Energy Direct project, company spokesman Allen Fore tried to keep his cool in a makeshift press conference in a classroom sealed off from the public.

Fore, vice president of public affairs for TGP’s parent company Kinder Morgan, responded to criticism that was being leveled against the company in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission public hearing down the hall for a lack transparency, especially in its 79-volume resource report filed last Friday that left some key sections blank except for the label “to be determined.”

“The pipelines plan are wholly unreadable and undeceipherable,” Northfield Selectboard member Jack Spanbauer had complained to FERC staff minutes earlier, echoing complaints of other officials that trying to respond to more than 6,000 pages of documents a few days after they were released was ludicrous. “They could reduce 2-feet-by-3-feet plans to 81/2-by-11, and we do not have the resolution … to be able to read what the heck is going on,” Spanbauer told the FERC representatives.

Fore, wearing a shirt with the Kinder Morgan logo embroidered over his heart, told reporters, “We haven’t even applied for a permit yet,” and described the “extensive review process” that precedes the company’s application with FERC in October.

Specific proposals for crossing all water bodies in the 400-plus mile project across New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire will be determined by the Army Corps of Engineers and state agencies as part of the permitting process, and that phase of the project still lies ahead.

“We’ve had 60 public meetings and 24 open houses, and that’s before the process has even started,” said Fore. “There are years ahead of us of public comment and review and participation,” he added, before being reminded by this reporter that Kinder Morgan’s plan is to have the project approved by FERC 15 months from now, with construction to begin in early 2017.

The process and its relation to the resource report was defended also by FERC branch chief James Martin of the commission’s Office of Energy Projects, in an interview outside the 7-hour long hour meeting, which drew nearly 600 people, twice as many as a Pittsfield hearing the night before.

“What they filed was a draft,” he said. “It’s not supposed to be complete. … We’ve got to put timelines on things or we never get anywhere.”

Yet he stressed that FERC would continue to accept comments even after the official Aug. 31 deadline. “So we’ll take comments after the application is filed (in October.)

Fore added that the process is determined by FERC, which has been called on by Congressman James McGovern, the region’s entire state legislative delegation and others to slow the scoping for the environmental impact statement preparation that begins this fall.

“I don’t think anyone can say over the last year and a half that we haven’t made modifications to our project based upon a lot of public input. This is all very much a process that is transparent, in our view, and responsive.”

Among the most dramatic changes was a decision in December 2014 to reroute the project through southern New Hampshire to avoid protected conservation land in Warwick, Orange and towns farther east. The existing route still affects 34 miles of Ashfield, Conway, Shelburne, Deerfield, Montague, Northfield Erving and Warwick.

Fore said the company’s representatives have been taking notes on what’s being said in the scoping hearings and it plans to hold more “open houses” in towns including Northfield.

He said the decision by Kinder Morgan’s board of directors to go ahead with the Wright, N.Y.-to-Dracut path of its project at 1.3 billion cubic feed per day, rather than 2.2 Bcf/d — reducing pipeline size from 36 to 30 inches in diameter and a planned Northfield compressor station from 80,000 to 41,000 horsepower — was based on commitments it had received from gas customers.

A year ago, in announcing its “anchor” gas distribution companies that had contracted to be part of the project, TGP described it as having capacity scalable from approximately 0.8 Bcf/d to 1.2 Bcf/d, “or ultimately up to 2.2 Bcf/d, depending on final customer commitments.”

But Fore said the 0.55 Bcf/d in commitments it had in hand wasn’t a disappointment, but rather is in keeping with the company’s original plan for the 188-mile pipeline segment.

He said that 60 to 70 percent of that gas is destined for Massachusetts gas customers, with the rest going to New Hampshire and Connecticut.

Fore said the company plans to go ahead with a pipeline built to handle a capacity based on “firm, long-time commitments” that are approved by state regulators like the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities.

“The reason we said 2.2 was to avoid people saying we had some kind of a secret plan and we weren’t talking about the potential maximum,” Fore said. “We’re still confident we’re going to get more,” and is in fact leaving open the option of expanding back to a 2.2 Bcf capacity.

“We wanted to talk about what could potentially be the largest build-out,” he added, which might have taken place if the New England governors had gone further in promoting a regional proposal. As it is, he said, there is the possibility of adding to the project in Maine, including electricity generation and “commercial business development areas … all domestic.”

Fore said that in Massachusetts and Connecticut, selling to power generators would require the kind of policy changes that Bay State Gov. Charlie Baker has asked the DPU to investigate.On the Web: www.gctv.org/videos/ferc-hearing-ned-project-july-29-2015You can reach Richie Davis at rdavis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269

Mass. legislators’ statement to FERC July 29 scoping session

“We are unable to attend this hearing tonight due to legislative sessions in Boston, but we wish to comment on the matter before FERC due to the critical importance of this regulatory process in evaluating the environmental impact of this proposed project on the communities that we represent.

“First and foremost, we believe that FERC should suspend the current environmental scoping process and withdraw the Notice of Intent that was issued on June 30, 2015.

“It was only five days ago, on Friday July 24, 2015, that the latest Resource Reports for the Northeast Energy Direct project were filed for public comment and review as part of this process. These documents are massive, with thousands of pages of highly technical and important environmental information about this project.

“Despite the lateness of the filing of these reports, they are incomplete, and omit critical information that is necessary for a thorough and accurate review of the impacts of this proposed project in our communities.

“In this short amount of time, it is simply impossible for citizens, organizations, and experts to properly analyze and comment on the environmental and economic impacts of this project.

“In order to have a credible and respected regulatory process, we believe that it is incumbent upon FERC to postpone this current scoping process. We believe that it should be re-started with the issuance of a new Notice of Intent, extending the public comment period for at least 60 days in light of the July 24th Resource Reports. A new schedule of scoping hearings should be issued to allow for meaningful public comment during this period.

“Without a re-starting 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 the environmental health and quality of life in our region. We respectfully ask that you approve this request before proceeding further.

“Thank you.

Sen. Stan Rosenberg, Franklin, Hampshire & Worcester District

Sen. Benjamin Downing, Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire & Hampden District

Rep. Stephen Kulik, First Franklin District

Rep. Paul Mark, Second Berkshire District

Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, Fist Berkshire District

Rep. Susannah Whipps-Lee, Second Franklin District”