Pipeline expansion could carry natural gas right out of the region
By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
Left out of the talking points that support expanding pipelines in New England are the efforts by energy companies to deliver that natural gas to Canada for export overseas.
Documents show that developers are already moving forward with this concept. Last October, Pieridae Energy filed a federal application to send domestic natural gas from Massachusetts to Nova Scotia, where it would be converted to liquefied natural gas (LNG) and exported. According to Peiridae, a company in Germany has already agreed to buy the exported LNG.
To get to Nova Scotia, the natural gas would travel through the 889-mile Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline from Dracut, Mass. The pipeline’s owner, Spectra Energy of Houston, has already applied to reverse the direction of the pipeline flow to reach the Maritime Provinces.
The Dracut hub connects to, and is near, several pipelines, including the Algonquin Gas Transmission pipeline, which travels through New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island before it reaches Massachusetts. The Algonquin pipeline is awaiting approval for a major upgrade to expand capacity, as is the Tennessee Gas Pipeline (TGP) that runs to Dracut. The TGP Northeast Energy Expansion project proposes to add 126 miles of transmission line across the upper portion of Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire to connect with Dracut.
In January, governors Charlie Baker, R-Mass., and Gina Raimondo, D-R.I., and Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello stated their support for the pipeline projects. It didn’t seem to change their minds that some of the natural gas may not be staying in New England. A spokesman for Baker said the governor is still “exploring all options” with the pipeline and other infrastructure upgrades. Mattiello also stated his commitment to expanding natural-gas capacity. Raimondo didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment.
Lawmakers have routinely referred to the region’s dependence on natural gas for home heating and fuel for power plants as justification for the pipelines. Shortages in recent winters and subsequent price spikes prompted all six New England states to agree to fund programs for these transmission projects, which includes fees, called tariffs, paid by ratepayers.
Last year, Rhode Island passed legislation to allow such strategies, while former Gov. Deval Patrick delayed the tariff concept in Massachusetts.
Opponents say the cost savings for consumers will be diminished if ratepayers are paying for infrastructure projects — projects that are estimated to run several billion dollars. The saving will be further reduced if the gas is exported, they argue.
“Far from enhancing our energy independence or energy security, this pipeline will accelerate the depletion of our already vastly overrated domestic gas reserves because much of the gas will be destined for export," said Lisa Petrie of the environmental advocacy group Fossil Free Rhode Island. "The only true path to energy security — and, more importantly, climate security — is a rapid transition away from fossil fuels to renewable-energy sources."
In the environmental impact assessment for the Algonguin expansion, called AIM, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) gave an ambiguous response to the export question:
“The AIM Project is designed to transport natural gas to serve the Project Shipper’s load in the Northeast markets. No new LNG storage facilities are proposed, and the Project is not designed for the purpose of the export of natural gas. However, it is unknown whether the natural gas transported on the AIM Project facilities would be liquefied and stored in existing LNG storage facilities after the natural gas is delivered by Algonquin to the Project Shippers. It is possible that the project shippers could use existing peak shaving LNG facilities, but those facilities are not export terminal facilities.”
The comment period for Pieridae Energy’s application with the Department of Energy closed Feb. 9. Pipeline opponents have started a petition to extend the comment period. They say the pipeline expansions, which include massive upgrades to compressor stations, increases toxic pollution and the likelihood of fires and explosions. The pipelines also add to the problems with hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which is linked to polluted aquifers, earthquakes, toxic waste and air pollution, and increasing greenhouse-gas emissions from extraction and transporting the gas.
The Pierdae Energy export plan states that it intends to take advantage of the abundance of natural gas from the Marcellus shale fracking fields in Pennsylvania. This natural gas is the main source of fuel to meet the project’s goal of exporting up to 800 million cubic feet of domestically produced natural gas per day through a new LNG facility in Nova Scotia.
The Northeast Energy Direct expansion in Massachusetts, proposed by Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, is negotiating privately with landowners for use of their land. However, 44 cities and towns have passed resolutions against the pipeline or to have a greater say in the project. Opponents object to the pipeline running through dense forests, wetlands and drinking-water supplies. To quell some of the opposition, the Northeast Direct expansion has been presented a plan to detour a portion of the new pipeline through existing power-line rights of way in New Hampshire, bypassing six Massachusetts towns.
Kinder Morgan says on its website that the company hasn’t executed any contracts with developers of LNG port facilities. But that it may do so; it all depends on the buyer.
“The ultimate destination of the gas and volumes associated is within the sole control of the project customers,” according to Kinder Morgan.
The debate is also heating up at the federal level. New York senators Charles Schumer and Kirtsen Gillibrand, both Democrats, sent a letter Feb. 9 to FERC asking that additional hearings be held for the AIM project.
Last month, Massachusetts senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, both Democrats, sent a letter to FERC seeking that the pipeline approval process be more through.
Both of those letters came after a Jan. 22 letter from Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Angus King, I-Maine, Christopher Murphy, D-Conn., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., asked that the approval process for AIM be sped up to help with home-heating demands and energy-infrastructure improvements.
The growing global demand for natural gas was sited by Pieridae Energy in its application, and the U.S. Senate wants to help meet this demand. On Jan. 6, the Senate introduced a bill to speed up the permitting of new U.S. LNG export facilities.
Currently, a facility in Alaska is the only U.S. terminal exporting LNG. LNG export projects are underway in Maryland, Texas and Louisiana.