A long road lies ahead for pipeline plan:
In the months since energy company Kinder Morgan announced it would be shifting its proposed pipeline route north through southern New Hampshire to avoid parts of Massachusetts, some local anti-pipeline activists have placed their emphasis on understanding — and stymieing — the federal approval process.
With slogans like “get the FERC out of Rindge,” local residents concerned about the impact the proposed pipeline will have on their neighborhoods, conserved land and property rates have focused on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency that ultimately will give federal approval or disapproval for the project.Martha Shanahan can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1434, or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @MShanahanKS.
But before FERC’s five commissioners make a final decision, a long road lies ahead.
Kinder Morgan and Tennessee Gas, the subsidiary building the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline, remains in what FERC calls the pre-filing stage, during which it has held public meetings and sent surveyors to assess the land the pipeline will cross.
Before it can officially file it must first hold a series of so-called scoping meetings in towns along the route.
New Hampshire’s U.S. congressional delegation wrote a joint letter to FERC in April asking that the company hold scoping meetings with any towns that request them and that they cooperate with the towns in scheduling them.
Once those meetings are held, and if enough deals are finalized with the power companies along the pipeline route that have promised to buy gas from the companies, the company plans to file its official application for FERC approval in September, according to documents it filed with FERC.
Then, according to FERC spokeswoman Pamela Young-Allen, the commission’s staff will evaluate the possible environmental impact of the pipeline — and whether there are any alternatives — before issuing a draft environmental impact statement, which the public will be able to comment on. A final statement will then go to the commission.
Staff members rarely recommend against a project, Young-Allen said.
The commission’s five members — all Obama administration appointees — will then read the environmental impact statement and issue a decision on the project.
While the agency doesn’t keep statistics on how many projects the commission approves or declines, Young-Allen said, a “no” answer from the commission is also rare.
Any person or entity who filed after the initial application as an “intervenor,” or a party that would be affected by the pipeline, can appeal the decision, Young-Allen said.
“When the commission issues its order on the project, the intervenors — and only the intervenors — can seek rehearing or an appeal of the commission’s decision,” she said.
But before September, Kinder Morgan must first try to show show it is meeting actual demand in the states the pipeline will cross. Companies in the states between the Pennsylvania shale fields and the proposed Dracut, Mass. terminus — where the gas will connect with a pipeline to Canada — have already signed on to sell the gas to their customers.
The state’s role
The N.H. Public Utilities Commission is charged with determining whether Liberty Utilities is warranted in looking to the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline for gas for its customers.
In New Hampshire, Liberty Utilities has emerged as the only company willing to enter into a contract with Kinder Morgan for the gas, and opponents, such as the nonprofit corporation Pipeline Awareness Network for the Northeast (PLAN), are aiming at that contract as the battle before the FERC war.
“We’ve all been hearing FERC is where all the decisions get made,” PLAN’s president, Kathryn R. Eiseman, said. “But states have an enormous amount of power.”
PLAN combined two Massachusetts and New Hampshire groups joined to form the regional organization, Eisemen, who is also the director of the Massachusetts group, said.
Eiseman said PLAN has hired a Boston attorney who focuses on energy issues to help the group file, giving it the opportunity to testify at hearings on the deal.
Eiseman did not say which municipalities or organizations are members of PLAN.
But several local towns, including Fitzwilliam, Greenville, Richmond and Troy, have joined another group, the N.H. Municipal Pipeline Coalition, to join together, some signing on as an intervenor in the Liberty Utilities deal.
In a letter to Gov. Maggie Hassan last month, the 13 towns called the pipeline unnecessary and “an insult to conservation efforts of the state, municipalities and conservation easement holders given the existence of better alternatives.”
Susan Silverman, chairwoman of the Fitzwilliam Board of Selectmen, said her town filed with the Public Utilities Commission as an intervenor in hopes of convincing commissioners that the pipeline is unnecessary.
She said she doesn’t yet know if the town will file to participate in the FERC application this fall as an intervenor.
“There’s a lot of ground to cover before that,” she said. “We try to take it one step at a time. ... what comes out of the (Public Utility Commission) will dictate what we do.”
The commission’s decision could be the last time New Hampshire officials can make a decision affecting the future of the pipeline in New Hampshire.
The project won’t need a input from the N.H. Legislature, and local zoning requirements are unlikely to stand in the way of Kinder Morgan’s path once federal approval is granted.
“There isn’t a simple process,” Silverman said. “It would be nice if there was.”
Even if the Liberty contract is stymied, FERC could still go ahead with its application in September, and still get FERC approval.
Eiseman said she’s waiting to see what happens at the state level before her group starts to tackle the federal regulation process.
“When it gets to September, we’ll see whether Kinder Morgan has any contracts approved,” she said. “Everyone is very happy to show them the door.”