In a hard-hitting response to questions raised by federal regulators about its natural gas pipeline project, Kinder Morgan subsidiary Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. has accused state Attorney General Maura Healey of ignoring details about what the company views as the need for more gas supply in New England.
Based on her recently commissioned study by the Analysis Group of Boston on the pipeline project, Healey asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a "full evaluation of the regional need for new gas capacity."
The study, released on Nov. 18, contended that new natural gas pipelines are not needed in New England since the region is unlikely to confront electricity reliability challenges over the next 15 years. Kinder Morgan promptly blasted the report as "seriously flawed."
In its response to federal regulators filed on Monday, Tennessee Gas asserted that the region's gas utilities require 5 billion cubic feet of pipeline capacity by 2018, compared to the current capacity just under 4 billion cubic feet of gas per day.
"The attorney general's study ignores these statistics and explicitly excludes a consideration of the need for more pipeline capacity by gas utilities," according to Curtis Cole, business development director for Tennessee Gas.
He told the commission that the study's finding that the region's power market can use oil backup and liquefied natural gas to cover demand on the coldest winter days "ignores the fact that New England generators are more dependent on natural gas pipeline capacity to generate base-load electricity in recent years, and that going forward, with nuclear retirements such as Vermont Yankee and Pilgrim, natural gas's role likely will only increase."
Cole also accused Healey's study of dismissing "the high cost New England consumers currently pay for energy and the economic benefit that relatively low-cost, clean natural gas would bring to the region."
Tennessee Gas recently filed its formal application for a $5 billion, 412-mile pipeline project dubbed Northeast Energy Direct. The currently proposed pipeline route would enter Berkshire County from Stephentown, N.Y., cross portions of Hancock, Lanesborough, Cheshire, Dalton, Hinsdale, Peru and Windsor before exiting into the Pioneer Valley and looping across 17 southern New Hampshire towns before re-entering Massachusetts to the existing Dracut terminal north of Lowell.
The company is hoping for a commission decision by November 2016 so it can construct the pipeline in time for an in-service target date of November 2018.
Responding to other questions raised by Healey, the company committed to routes avoiding state-protected land or, if it needs to cross such environmentally sensitive territory, to follow existing utility corridors to minimize any impact. It also agreed to abide by more stringent state environmental controls on methane and other greenhouse gas pollutants during pipeline construction and the operation of compressor stations along the project's final route.
But the company delayed by several days any response to the federal commission's request to consider alternative routes such as a potential path alongside the Massachusetts Turnpike, connected by using an existing Tennessee Gas pipeline corridor through Richmond, Stockbridge and points south. It is expected to address that request later this week.
As for concerns over potential pipeline leaks, the company stated that its patrols exceed U.S. Department of Transportation requirements and that pipelines are inspected at least 26 times a year by air, vehicle or on foot.
"These patrols look for ongoing construction activities near the pipeline, signs of any leaks (i.e. dead vegetation), signs of ground disturbance, exposed pipe and any other hazard that could affect the pipeline," engineering project manager J. Peter Jensen stated. "Tennessee closely monitors pipeline operations, including line pressure and surveillance of the pipeline to detect leaks and protect against third-party damage."
According to Jensen, the company considers venting or blowdown events involving the release of natural gas to reduce pipeline pressure at compressor stations as "infrequent" and that emergency shutdowns "are extremely rare events and are initiated by gas or fire detection systems or manually initiated by an employee."
Responding to environmental issues raised by Healey, the company agreed to work with the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife's Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program to prevent destruction to wildlife habitat by developing "avoidance, minimization, and mitigation measures that will result in a long-term net benefit to the impacted species."
Healey also asked the federal commission for a "rigorous analysis" of potential public safety challenges.
Tennessee Gas told the regulators that it "communicates regularly with first responders, local officials and contractors in all counties, cities and towns where it operates."
The company also committed to contacting local emergency responders annually "to answer questions and provide additional information related to emergency response, safety and local contact information." It will also hold mock emergency drills with local responders and, if asked, will schedule open houses at its facilities to better familiarize first responders with Tennessee's equipment and facilities, and provide workshops or training for first responders.
"Tennessee will provide free training to emergency personnel prior to the project facilities being placed in service," according to the company's filing with the regulators this week.
Asked by Healey to address public concerns about air emissions from proposed new compressor stations such as one proposed in Windsor, the Kinder Morgan subsidiary told the federal commission that any emissions comply with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requirements aimed at protecting public health.
The company also asserted that it is "not aware of any instances of a decrease to property value or the inability of a homeowner to obtain a mortgage for a property in the vicinity of a compressor station. There are dozens of existing compressor stations along Tennessee's existing system in the Northeast U.S. and many individuals have bought, sold, and built homes immediately in the vicinity of compressor stations."
Tennessee Gas dealt with noise impacts during pipeline construction, operation and maintenance by assuring regulators that "the noise impacts due to equipment used for project construction will be temporary."
Any ongoing impacts would be addressed by including noise-control operating practices, "selecting low-noise alternatives when possible (such as electric versus diesel engines), restricting the time of day or season of the year for construction, installing temporary noise barriers or constructing berms, enclosing equipment and preparing site-specific noise management plans, including a communication mechanism for residents and businesses to report noise-related issues."