Major interstate pipeline firm wants to expand its network in Phila. area

Posted: March 06, 2013

In the latest manifestation of the Marcellus Shale natural gas boom, a major interstate pipeline company wants to expand its transmission network in the Philadelphia area to deliver more gas to customers.

Columbia Gas Transmission Group submitted plans Monday with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) outlining a public campaign for its $210 million project.

The East Side Expansion Project, so named because it adds capacity to the eastern part of Columbia's 16-state system, includes installing a 20-inch-diameter pipeline on a 7.5-mile route in Gloucester County and a 26-inch-diameter pipeline for 8.9 miles in Chester County.

"We are responding to a demand for increasing capacity of natural gas from our customers," said Brendan C. Neal, community relations and stakeholder outreach manager for the transmission company, a subsidiary of NiSource Inc.

The new and larger pipes with greater capacity, which would be buried alongside existing Columbia pipelines, will require the company to acquire additional right-of-way from adjoining property owners. But the project is less likely to create public apprehension than a pipeline crossing virgin countryside.

"Since they're running along an existing line, it does limit some of the concerns," said Lyman Barnes, administrator of Logan Township, Gloucester County.

The work would expand capacity on a part of Columbia's pipeline that runs from New York state to Virginia through Southeastern Pennsylvania. The existing line connects to the Millenium Pipeline near Port Jervis, N.Y., and transports Marcellus gas southward to Downingtown, where an eastward extension goes under the Delaware River into South Jersey.

The new line would expand supply options for the West Deptford Energy Station, a 738-megawatt gas-fired power plant being built in Gloucester County by LS Power Group. That plant, scheduled to go into service next year, would consume up to 80 million cubic feet of gas a day.

Columbia will increase capacity on its existing pipeline mostly by adding more horsepower to compressor stations in Milford and Easton, Pa., which will push greater volumes of gas though the pipes. Those station expansions are likely to attract the attention of environmental activists, who have objected to air emissions from other such projects.

The plans are part of an industry effort to add capacity to deliver the vast quantities of natural gas produced from shale, a type of rock regarded as unproductive before the industry developed drilling technologies involving hydraulic fracturing.

Pipeline infrastructure designed to deliver natural gas from traditional production areas in the Gulf Coast states is being reconfigured to accommodate new Appalachian shale production.

"Because of the nature of where gas supply was in the past, the gas pretty much ran from the south to the north," said Neal. "Now there's new [drilling] technology available that's made gas supply available in other areas."

The pipeline expansion in Gloucester County would run mostly along Center Square Road, from a point just east of Route 130 in Logan Township to the New Jersey Turnpike, where it would join to Columbia's line at an existing station on Swedesboro-Monroeville Road in Woolwich Township. About 50 adjoining property owners would be affected.

The Chester County segment would run southward from Columbia's Eagle Compressor Station on Fellowship Road in West Vincent Township. It would connect to the Downingtown Compressor Station on Poorhouse Road near the West Bradford Township municipal building. About 180 property owners would be affected.

The pipeline route will cross Brandywine Creek below Marsh Creek Reservoir, but Columbia plans to go under the creek using a horizontal drilling method to avoid having to trench through the waterway.

Columbia will compensate property owners for obtaining the right of way. As a regulated pipeline, the company has the right to obtain easements through eminent domain.

The project would require FERC approval. The papers filed on Monday with the federal agency were a request to initiate a "prefiling," which would include public meetings in April before the company formally files its application with the commission in August. Columbia anticipates FERC would authorize construction by June 2014.

Columbia representatives have reached out to local officials since September to generate good will over a project that will most likely create annoyance and construction inconvenience.

"Other than payments for easements, it doesn't really bring any increase in tax revenue or jobs," said James Wendergass, manager of West Vincent Township.

Wendergass said another Marcellus project planned for the area, the Commonwealth Pipeline, is creating more anxiety because it will cross Chester County on a new, and as yet undisclosed, route.


Contact Andrew Maykuth at 215-854-2947, @Maykuth or amaykuth@phillynews.com

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