Opponents seek delay in federal review of Tennessee Gas Pipeline

Last modified: Friday, July 10, 2015

The Pipeline Awareness Network for the Northeast (PLAN) has joined two other coalitions in asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a delay in the “scoping” process for environmental review of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Northeast Energy Direct project to allow time for analyzing project revisions.

The company is in the prefiling process for its $5 billion planned pipeline that would cross Plainfield in Hampshire County and eight Franklin County towns on its path from Pennsylvania shale fields to Dracut. It had originally projected filing its second set of environmental resource reports in June, but that has been delayed until sometime this month.

Tennessee Gas Pipeline spokesman Richard Wheatley told The Recorder he was unable to clarify when the detailed reports will be released, saying only that it will be sometime in July.

The Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions and the Northeast Municipal Gas Pipeline Coalition, representing Dracut and a dozen other eastern Massachusetts and New Hampshire towns, last week called on the federal commission to delay its scoping process, saying that additional time will be needed for the public, nongovernmental organizations and government agencies to review and analyze the reports, which will likely include rerouting diversions in parts of New Hampshire and eastern Massachusetts, according to Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s most recent report.

In a letter Tuesday, PLAN President Kathryn Eiseman has asked the federal commission to postpone its meetings for outlining what will be included in the environmental impact statement required under the National Environmental Policy Act until “at least 30 days after TGP’s filing of the environmental resource reports.”

The commission has scheduled a July 29 public meeting at Greenfield Middle School to receive comments for the so-called “scoping process,” and has said it also plans to conduct a meeting sometime that week in Winchester, N.H.

PLAN also requested a similar 30-day extension of the public comment period in the scoping process “to provide adequate time to review these draft reports, which are anticipated to be far more complete” than the last proposal for the project issued in March. The federal commission had set the deadline for Aug. 31.

Eiseman told The Recorder that when the last set of more than a dozen resource reports was released in mid-March, it was riddled with “to be determined” notations throughout, with comments that details would be included in reports due for release in June.

“It’s not really fair or transparent to hold off on describing changes until the scoping is in place,” said Eiseman, since the scoping will set the parameters for the Environmental Impact Statement to be performed on the project beginning this fall.

In its June 30 request to the federal commission, the Northeast municipal coalition wrote, “With many thousands of data points still missing from their materials, and the release for the update now delayed until July 2015, we strongly request that FERC delay any scoping meetings until such time as a thoughtful renew and analysis, by all impacted communities and state agencies, of the yet-to-be released revised drafts of all 13 resource reports is possible. How can we as community leaders provide the guidance our constituents deserve and require with so many unknowns remaining and major changes still pending?”

The coalition contends that Kinder Morgan, the parent corporation of Tennessee Gas Pipeline, “has provided few substantive answers to our many substantive concerns; it is now imperative that the impacted communities receive the benefit of a full disclosure of information with which to critically evaluate the far-reaching impacts of the project.”

The conservation commission association added that scheduling meetings during July and August, with an Aug. 31 deadline, will reduce turnout at those sessions and make it difficult for anyone vacationing during that period to file comprehensive comments.

Meanwhile, with the state Department of Public Utilities proceeding with its review of long-term contact agreements for sale of gas from the proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline, the state Attorney General’s office has renewed its call for freezing the DPU’s case until completion of an evaluation study it is launching into options to address New England’s electric reliability needs, including natural gas capacity demand through 2030.

The DPU last month rejected the attorney general’s May 27 request for a halt in approving contracts Berkshire Gas, Columbia Gas and National Grid had made for gas from the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline until it rules on four proceedings, including action on the proposed energy-efficiency investment plan for the state’s utilities, 2016-2018, and a petition to adopt an approach to complying with a state legislation to curtail climate change. It also sought the delay pending the DPU’s review of the company’s long-range forecast and supply plan, and the department’s investigation into how electric utilities could make long-term contracts with gas suppliers.

According to Berkshire Gas Co. written testimony filed with the DPU, the company requested approval of its agreement by Sept. 1 so that Tennessee Gas can seek approval by the federal commission for its pipeline project “on a timeline to support an inservice date of Nov. 1, 2018.”

On Wednesday, the Conservation Law Foundation, a full intervenor in the gas agreement filings before the DPU, filed a letter with the department in support of the attorney general’s request.

The attorney general’s study, it said, “would provide the Department with important new analysis the Department has yet to be presented with that is material to the core issues in this proceeding.”


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