Tennessee Gas Pipeline compressor proposed for Northfield would be among largest in US

Last modified: Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The 80,000 horsepower compressor station proposed to be built in Northfield would be among the very largest compressor stations along natural gas pipelines in the United States, according to a federal listing.

In fact, the three 80,000-horsepower compressor stations planned in Northfield, Windsor, New Hampshire, and Hillsborough, New Hampshire, along the Northeast Energy Direct project proposed by the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. — as well as a 90,000-horsepower compressor station just across the state line in Nassau, New York — are larger than any other station in the country, with the exception of a 120,000-horsepower station in Mobile, Alabama along the 745-mile Gulfstream pipeline.

The Northfield compressor station, powered with two Titan 250 and one Titan 130 gas turbines, would be built on a 156.3-acre Gulf Road parcel owned by Jere Nelson, for which an agreement was filed Tuesday at the Franklin County Registry of Deeds.

The 412-mile pipeline would deliver a maximum of 2.2 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day from Pennsylvania’s shale fields to Dracut, and cross Plainfield in Hampshire County, and Ashfield, Conway, Shelburne, Deerfield, Montague, Erving, Northfield and Warwick in Franklin County.

Its nine compressor stations — one each in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, three in Massachusetts and four in New York — would maintain pressure in the pipeline system. They are placed along the route at varying intervals based on the pipe’s planned 36-inch diameter, the terrain and the volume of gas to be moved.

Compressor stations are equipped with emergency shutdown systems that can detect an unanticipated pressure drop, gas leak or other abnormal conditions.

The most recent list of pipeline compressor stations, compiled by the U.S. Energy Information Agency in 2008, shows a few stations totaling more than 70,000 horsepower, in Lincoln, Wyoming; Jones, Mississippi; Henry, Georgia; and White, Arkansas. But when it came time for a contingent of Northfield town officials to examine one last month, the closest one they could find, 5½ hours away in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, was only 32,000 horsepower.

Noise, as well as light pollution, emissions and the potential for groundwater contamination are among the chief concerns of Northfield residents about the planned compressor station.

Because of a muffling device at Wellsboro, the noise level of the station at the street, about 150 yards away, was about 50 decibels, the level of a normal conversation, reported Northfield Town Administrator Brian Noble, emphasizing that his finding was based only on a single visit at a particular moment. But he added that the noise and vibration level inside the compressor station was so great “your teeth rattled.”

Tennessee Gas Pipeline spokesman Richard Wheatley acknowledged that his company, and its parent, Kinder Morgan, have had no experience building a compressor station as large as 80,000 horsepower, and said he was not aware of any station that is larger. But he described the pipeline project, for which a formal application is scheduled to be filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, as “a work in progress,” and said that until that filing, the 80,000-horsepower size represents the maximum rating for the compressor stations and not necessarily what the pipeline will ultimately require.

The station’s two 30,000-horsepower and single 20,000-horsepower turbines “would be a be a very large configuration,” Wheatley acknowledged.

Additional information about the configuration of the planned pipeline, including route changes in New Hampshire and eastern Massachusetts, may be included in a report the company plans to file with the federal commission later this month, he said.

A spokeswoman at the commission, which plans to hold a July 29 public “scoping” meeting at 6:30 p.m. in Greenfield Middle School, said the agency maintains no compilation of compressor stations it has approved.

Jim Cutler of Massachusetts Pipeline Awareness Network will present a discussion of the health and environmental impacts of gas pipeline compressor stations at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Trinitarian Congregational Church in Northfield.


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