One-month stay for pipeline

  • —Courtesy photo

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 4/25/2016 6:54:21 PM

In the wake of its announcement that it is suspending work on the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline, developer Kinder Morgan has asked for a one-month stay of various federal and state processes related to the project.

Kinder Morgan, through its subsidiary Tennessee Gas Pipeline, has been working toward a 30-inch natural gas line to transport gas from the Marcellus shale to Massachusetts for more than two years, but announced last week that there were not enough distributor commitments to justify the project’s $3.3 billion cost.

Following quickly on the heels of that announcement, Tennessee Gas filed a request at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the federal agency that has ultimate approval power over the project, asking for a stay of proceedings until May 26, at or before which point it will submit a status report.

While as of Monday afternoon, FERC has yet to respond to the Friday request, Tennessee Gas filed a similar request with the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, which made a swift decision to grant the stay.

Tennessee Gas had filed a request with the Massachusetts DPU to allow the company to perform various surveys on private property within the corridor of the proposed pipeline. 

“The period of stay is apparently required for the company to communicate and otherwise discuss its decision to suspend further work on NED with its customers, including those local distribution company customers in Massachusetts who have previously entered into precedent agreements with the company,” wrote DPU Hearing Officer Stephen H. August, in his decision to grant Tennessee Gas’ request for a stay. “...[I]t is anticipated that the company will ultimately withdraw its petitions in the above referenced matters.”

Until a request for withdrawal is made, the DPU agreed to a monthlong stay. The pause eliminates two deadlines in their approval process – one on April 22, which was the deadline for Tennessee Gas to submit responses to the DPU’s first set of information requests, and on May 6, which was the deadline for filing written comments on the proceedings.

Although a docket was opened for comments on the pipeline at the state’s Site Evaluation Committee, and Tennessee Gas held required pre-application hearings on the project, the company had not yet actually filed an application with the SEC, according to SEC Administrator Pamela Monroe. 

And though pipeline opponents across the region have been celebrating the news of the project’s suspension, they are keeping a wary eye out for things that might bring the project back into viability.

“I would be very cautious about suspending any of our current legal work or opposition until Kinder Morgan has formally withdrawn their application,” said Mason Selectman Charlie Moser.

Mason has raised $100,000 in the past two years for the purpose of fighting the pipeline, including splitting costs with other affected New Hampshire towns to hire lawyer Richard Kanoff to represent the town’s interests, as well as retaining a Mason-specific lawyer and conducting an ecological survey of the town.

Wait-and-see may be the best approach at this point, said Maryann Harper of Rindge, a spokesperson and co-founder of N.H. Pipeline Awareness Network, or NHPLAN, a pipeline opposition group.

“I don't think anyone should take their ‘No Pipeline’ sign down,” she said.

NHPLAN will be continuing to meet, said Harper, and continuing to keep an eye on processes that will remain ongoing whether or not Tennessee Gas withdraws its applications or not – such as changes to the rulemaking process concerning the approval of natural gas lines at the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee, state legislation connected to natural gas lines and a current process at the N.H. Public Utilities Commission that could allow pipeline developers to pay for the construction of pipelines through a tariff on their consumers.

“The project is suspended, it hasn't been withdrawn,” said Harper. “There is a concern that if the market changes – that if proposals are approved to allow [electric distribution companies] to fund projects like NED by tariff – NED could become viable again.” 

In its announcement Wednesday, Kinder Morgan attributed the lack of interest by local gas and electricity distributors as at least partially down to a lack of a regulatory process for binding electricity distribution contracts, and the “open-ended” nature of establishing such protocols in the New England states.

Kinder Morgan also attributed the decision to the current low-price environment of natural gas. 

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