SANDISFIELD — Nearly six months after workers began expanding a path through Otis State Forest, natural gas can begin flowing through a newly completed Tennessee Gas Pipeline spur.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Tuesday granted the company permission to put portions of the Connecticut Expansion Project in service beginning Wednesday, since the Massachusetts and New York sections are ready to flow gas.
In a filing with FERC on Monday, the company said that, after quality-control checks, these two sections of its 13-mile, tri-state pipeline are safe and mechanically ready to run gas intended for Connecticut customers.
The filing also said the Connecticut section is nearly complete, and it will notify the agency when that happens, and said it is on a tight deadline to make the gas available by Wednesday.
"The project [gas] shippers have expressed a commercial need for the capacity," the filing said.
Starting from the interconnection with the Iroquois Gas Transmission System in Wright, N.Y., the new line will provide 72,100 dekatherms of natural gas per day to points on the company's existing lines in Hartford County in Connecticut.
The pipeline is the company's third in a corridor that runs through about 4 miles here — about 2 miles of which are in a part of Otis State Forest that was purchased by the state.
The state forest had to be expanded to make way for this third line, sparking a court fight last year between Tennessee Gas and the state; the forest is protected under Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution. Typically, a two-thirds majority vote of the state House of Representatives is required to pull land out of Article 97 protection, a court ruled that federal interstate commerce law trumped the state constitution.
That was just one complaint of residents, environmentalists, lawmakers and activists who began a series of mostly peaceful protests that have led to nearly 100 arrests since tree cutting began in early May.
Other areas of concern were the impact on climate and the environment, the effect on stone landscapes that are considered sacred to some Native American tribes, and the claim that the extra gas is no longer needed, because gas demand in Connecticut has changed since FERC approved the project in March — approval that was based on this demonstrated need.
The Massachusetts PipeLine Awareness Network made one last stand on these points, and more, when Tennessee Gas filed its request to flow gas.
"Important new evidence has just emerged that further undercuts TGP's claims of Project need," wrote Kathryn Eiseman, director of the Network.
Eiseman referred to a recent academic paper about the natural gas and electricity markets that, she says, "indicates the Project's shippers have been systematically withholding capacity on the Algonquin Gas Transmission System, as part of an overall market failure (or potentially improper manipulation) that has reportedly resulted in New England ratepayers being overcharged billions of dollars."
Eiseman said FERC should investigate capacity issues in this and all the region's pipelines before allowing a new pipeline to go in service that could increase capacity on the backs of ratepayers, who pay for it, whether or not the gas is needed.
Kinder Morgan spokesman David Conover told The Eagle in an email that customers are ready and waiting.
"Connecticut Natural Gas Corporation, Yankee Gas Services Company and Southern Connecticut Gas Company have all signed long term agreements with Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. for the additional transportation capacity that the Project will add to the our system," he wrote.
The Network filed another last-ditch request Monday for FERC to deny, on several grounds, the company's push for the Nov. 1 gas flow date.
One had to do with temperatures.
"Even in the northernmost part of Connecticut, the temperature is not forecast to fall below 40 degrees during the first week of November," Eiseman wrote.
Eiseman also said restoration, seeding and final cleanup of the company's work area might have to be redone after the flash flooding and high winds that came through the area.
The company said in a mid-October status report that 97 percent of the Massachusetts section was complete.
Tennessee Gas said in its original filings with FERC that it would restore as much of the disrupted area as possible to its previous condition, and told FERC Monday that it will continue this work until it is complete.
That includes maintaining erosion-control devices, the company said.
In its response, FERC said it found that the company has "adequately stabilized the construction workspaces" and "rehabilitated" them.
Throughout the process, more criticism has been leveled against FERC and its way of doing business than the pipeline company. Eiseman told The Eagle that the network is not surprised that FERC granted permission to run the gas with some questions remaining.
"FERC has made sure that TGP is able to meet its in-service deadline, and ignored objections from the public," she said. "All along, FERC has ignored evidence that the project is not needed, and plowed ahead in the regulatory process to suit the company's schedule while shortchanging the public, the environment and their obligations to the tribes."
Reach staff writer Heather Bellow at 413-329-6871 or firstname.lastname@example.org.