Pipeline official grapples with criticism



Last modified: 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 kept 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 lack of 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 8½-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.”

Kinder Morgan’s plan, however, is to have the project approved by FERC 15 months from now, with construction to begin in 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 seven-hour long meeting which drew nearly 600 people.

“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. 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,” Fore said.

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 faurther 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 with the Wright, N.Y.-to-Dracut market path of its project at 1.3 billion cubic feet per day — less than the planned 2.2 billion feet — and to reduce pipeline size from 36 to 30 inches in diameter and shrink planned Northfield compressor stations from 80,000 to 41,000 horsepower were based on commitments from gas customers.

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 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.

Richie Davis can be reached at
rdavis@recorder.com.




 


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