Federal regulators reviewing a Tennessee Gas Pipeline proposal have asked the company to consider alternative routes, including one along the Mass Turnpike that the company has previously dismissed.
In a letter to J. Curtis Moffat, deputy general counsel and vice president of Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission asked the company to respond by Dec. 28 to several information requests, including the route alternatives, about the proposal.
Any new hybrid route would parallel the company's existing pipeline from New York state through Richmond, Stockbridge and points south. The alternative routes, if adopted, also would eliminate the controversial compressor station proposal in Windsor.
The company is seeking permission to build a 412-mile pipeline expansion from the Marcellus shale fields of Pennsylvania to northeastern Massachusetts. Under the currently proposed route, the 30-inch pipeline would enter Berkshire County from Stephentown, N.Y., and cross parts of Hancock, Cheshire, Lanesborough, Dalton, Hinsdale, Peru and Windsor as well as eight Franklin County communities and 17 southern New Hampshire towns before re-entering Massachusetts in Dracut, north of Lowell.
The 165-mile alternative that the commission is asking the company to reconsider would hook up with the Massachusetts Turnpike and follow an existing utility corridor, eventually continuing along Interstate 495 and Route 2.
Tennessee Gas, a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan, had turned down that alternative in previous environmental impact filings to regulators, describing it as longer than its preferred route, traversing "significantly more densely populated areas."
The company argued that the alternative would have "significantly more extensive cultural and environment impacts" and affect a higher number of stream and wetlands crossings, in addition to greater disruption of residences and developed areas.
Tennessee Gas also objected to the possible MassPike routing because it would present "challenges both during installation of the pipeline due to restricted access, work space, construction timeframes, vehicular traffic and potential for lane and/or road closures."
The company abandoned that proposal, stating that it would cross state-owned lands, many with conservation restrictions, as well as "numerous areas of congested construction and difficult construction."
In its Dec. 8 letter, the federal commission's environmental project manager, Eric J. Tomasi, asked Tennessee Gas to "provide maps specifically identifying the location of all proposed and all alternative compressor station sites. Ultimately, ensure that for each proposed station, at least one fully viable alternative site is identified."
The commission also wants the company to consider another alternative route through Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.
In 2014, before settling on its current preference, the company had selected a route through Richmond, Lenox, Washington, Dalton, Hinsdale, Peru and Windsor but decided against it following intense opposition from residents and town officials.
In addition to the consideration of several alternative routes and locations, the regulators want the company to respond to 28 comments on the project filed between Oct. 19 and Nov. 25. Among them are letters challenging the pipeline plan from state Attorney General Maura Healey and from town leaders in Lenox, Amherst and other communities in Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire.
Healey, citing her commissioned study, challenged the need for the project and its expenses that she said would be borne by electricity ratepayers. The company contends that it will pay for the entire construction costs if the pipeline expansion is approved, and that electricity and natural gas customers eventually would see savings in their monthly bills.
At a meeting with Eagle editors on Thursday, Healey said the process has suffered from a lack of transparency and information.
"I'm glad FERC is pressing for information," she said.
Other comments requiring a Tennessee Gas response are from the U.S. National Park Service, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board and Northeast Energy Solutions (NES).
NES, an advocacy group representing towns including Lenox, as well as the Massachusetts Land Trust Coalition and the Trustees of Reservations, argued that the company had submitted incomplete, outdated and inaccurate information about the project's environmental impacts on wetlands and other water resources.
The federal commission routinely issues information requests in certificate application proceedings and generally gives a company 20 days to respond.
As with all such requests, the regulators include language anticipating a company request for an extension. The Dec. 8 FERC letter stated that if the requested information "cannot be provided in the time frame indicated, explain which items will be delayed and why, and provide a projected filing date."
The letter also stated that "we expect to be requesting other clarifications or information in the future."
After a year of preliminary company filings and comments by regulators seeking more details, Tennessee Gas filed its formal application for the $5 billion Northeast Energy Direct project on Nov. 20, including a $3.3 billion pipeline expansion from Wright, N.Y., about 50 miles west of Albany, to Dracut.
The federal commission is expected to spend at least a year reviewing the proposal before issuing a decision that Kinder Morgan is seeking by the end of 2016. If the ruling is favorable, the company would construct the new pipeline in 2017 and 2018, aiming to put it into service in November 2018.