Kinder Morgan gas pipeline opponents seize on tweaks to project's scale

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Opponents of a proposed natural gas pipeline through Berkshire County are pointing to a modest scaledown in the project as evidence that the plan is not "financially viable."

Kinder Morgan told federal regulators this week that it is eliminating a 15-mile spur of its planned Tennessee Gas Pipeline route from upstate New York to eastern Massachusetts because it cannot find enough customers for the additional natural gas the pipeline would deliver from shale supplies in the Appalachian region of Pennsylvania.

The spur being eliminated affects the city of Worcester and six adjoining towns.

Explaining the decision, Allen Fore, vice president of government affairs for Kinder Morgan, Inc., stated: "We just don't have the customers."

But the company remains committed to the main pipeline route entering the Berkshires from Stephentown, N.Y., he added.

The pipeline, mainly along existing utility corridors, would extend through portions of Hancock, Lanesborough, Cheshire, Dalton, Hinsdale, Windsor and Peru before exiting into Franklin and Hampshire Counties and southern New Hampshire en route to the terminal in Dracut, north of Lowell.

Berkshire Gas Co. and National Grid are among seven utilities in four New England states that have signed agreements with Kinder Morgan's Tennessee Gas Co. affiliate to purchase some of the natural gas that the pipeline would supply if it's built.

The company's final, revised application for approval of the $5 billion project is due by Oct. 31 at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which is expected to rule on the proposal by autumn of 2016.

The proposal has aroused widespread opposition among residents, conservationists, advocacy groups and political leaders.

"This shows rather clearly that Kinder Morgan does not have the contracts in place to build a pipeline of the scale they propose," said Kathryn Eiseman, president of the Pipe Line Awareness Network for the Northeast, Inc. (PLAN).

She also pointed out that National Grid has told state regulators that the main project now involves a 30-inch pipeline, rather than the 36-inch line initially proposed by Kinder Morgan.

"This is a reduction of over 30 percent of the proposed volume, a far more substantial of a downscaling than dropping a 15-mile stretch of a project that's over 400 miles in length," Eiseman told The Eagle.

However, even though National Grid's statement is documented in a written filing with the state Department of Public Utilities, Kinder Morgan denies that a decision to reduce the diameter of the pipeline has been made.

"Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. is in pre-filing for a 36-inch diameter mainline pipeline for the proposed Northeast Energy Direct Project," said Richard N. Wheatley, Kinder Morgan's director of corporate communications and public affairs.

He told The Eagle that "the ultimate size and capacity of the pipeline will be determined based upon market demand and customer/shipper requirements."

Wheatley pointed out that Tennessee Gas is continuing to market the project. "No decision has been made to reduce the currently proposed 36-inch diameter pipeline," he stated.

As for National Grid's assertion to the contrary, Wheatley declined comment.

Meanwhile, an attorney for Northeast Energy Solutions (NEES) described the route reduction as having "everything to do with the company's inability to find a need for gas that does not generate electricity and lower energy prices."

NEES is a coalition representing the town of Lenox, the Berkshire Natural Resources Council, Green Berkshires, the Trustees of Reservations and the Richmond Land Trust, among others,

Kinder Morgan and supporters of the project contend the additional supply is needed to fill a shortage of natural gas in New England that drives up prices, specifically for electricity-generating plants in periods of high demand such as winter.

Vincent DeVito, the NEES legal counsel, had written to FERC in March, outlining the Tennessee Gas Pipeline's "conflicting and defective claims" about its Northeast Energy Direct proposal.

DeVito charged that the company had provided "inconsistent data regarding the amount of gas shipments it will deliver based on agreements with shippers, and that it has implied that new contracts were signed when that is apparently was not the case."

"In view of the time lapse since TGP's initial announcement of shippers, the probable unavailability of additional shippers, recent state regulatory rulings, and TGP's continuous representation that it does not intend to export outside the United States, it is quite likely that TGP already knows that NED is not financially viable," DeVito claimed.

Last month, in a letter to Tennessee Gas, FERC Project Manager Eric Tomasi told the company that its mid-March environmental draft report needed "clarifications of discrepancies and needed to identify missing information that we believe necessary to begin substantive preparation of the draft environmental impact statement for the project."

Tomasi cited "the large number of public comments and the complexity of the project."

Meanwhile, the PLAN group has protested last week's ruling by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities denying its joint petition with state Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, to intervene in proceedings involving potential state approval of the Berkshire Gas contract with Kinder Morgan. Kulik represents 19 towns in and around Franklin County.

PLAN members include state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, and Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, as well as the towns of Greenfield and Montague.

In her finding, DPU hearing officer Laurie Weisman wrote that "neither PLAN, nor its members, nor Representative Kulik have shown that they are substantially and specifically affected by this proceeding." She stated that state Attorney General Maura Healey, "who is a full participant in this matter, can adequately represent the interests of those PLAN members that are Massachusetts ratepayers."

According to Eiseman, the PLAN president, "it defies logic to conclude that Berkshire Gas ratepayers, regardless of their views and diverse interests, all must speak only through the voice of the attorney general, and that people are not 'substantially and specifically affected' when they may end up with a high pressure pipeline through their farms or outside their bedroom windows based on the outcome of these proceedings."

Eiseman stated that "these agreements between Kinder Morgan and gas companies such as Berkshire Gas form the foundation of the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline project. The more of these contracts that receive state approval, the more likely it is that FERC will look favorably upon the pipeline project."

Information from the Boston Globe was included in this report.

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.


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