WILKES-BARRE — Transco pipeline operator Williams briefed members of Luzerne County Council on Tuesday afternoon about upgrades to its interstate pipeline and to its compressor station in Buck Township.
At a meeting requested by the company, Williams representatives said it wants to increase capacity to meet gas transport demand from the Marcellus Shale.
Chris Staffel, public outreach coordinator for Williams, said the company is in the “very preliminary stages” of seeking approval for the upgrades from the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee, which oversees interstate gas pipelines. The company hopes to file final application with the FERC by the end of 2013, to receive approval by the end of 2014 and to put the project into service by the end of 2015, Staffel said.
Because the pipeline is regulated by federal authorities it is exempt from local zoning oversight, but company representatives said they would meet with affected municipalities to obtain support as part of the FERC filing. Brent Simmons, environmental scientist for Williams, added that the FERC would not issue the company a permit unless it satisfied the state Department of Environmental Protection and all conservation districts affected.
The upgrades would come in addition to another upgrade project further along in the federal regulatory approval process. That project would add a seventh compressor engine to the six currently at Williams' compressor station off Route 115 in Buck Township, boosting the station's horsepower from 32,000 to 48,000. It would also add pipeline segments near the existing line in Clinton, Lycoming and Monroe counties.
The new proposal would add an eighth engine to the Buck Township facility, adding an additional 30,000 horsepower, as well as an additional 28 miles of 42-inch pipeline to the Transco. Of that, a segment of approximately four miles would pass through Dorrance Township and Slocum Township and an additional 11-mile segment would pass through parts of Buck Township as well as through Tunkhannock Township and Tobyhanna Township in Monroe County.
The half-inch-thick pipeline segments would run alongside the Transco in existing pipeline easements and would be buried between 3 and 5 feet deep, company representatives said.
Williams District Manager Roy Ramsey said the company has not yet filed an emissions permit with the DEP and could not confirm the volume of additional emissions the new gas-fired compressor engine would produce.
Staffel said the company wants to expand its capacity in part to meet growing supply demands from Marcellus Shale gas production.
“We still don't have enough capacity to meet the growing demands of the producers who are currently producing natural gas here in the Marcellus Shale and to meet the market needs that are here along the eastern seaboard,” Staffel said.
The upgrades would boost the pipeline's capacity by 469,000 decatherms, enough to provide natural gas service to about 2 million homes, said Mario DiCocco, director of field operations for the Transco pipeline. It would also add additional flexibility for the pipeline to send gas from the Marcellus Shale as far south as South Carolina. Transco was originally constructed to transport gas from the Gulf of Mexico to New York City and other East Coast markets.
Asked by County Councilman Harry Haas how the county would benefit from the upgrades, Staffel said the company pays ad valorem taxes on its pipelines to the state that trickle down to counties, municipalities and school districts. She also said construction of the pipeline would also provide a short-term economic stimulus.
Luzerne County Chief Engineer Joe Gibbons asked the company about helping the county to plan a “natural gas corridor,” where natural gas gathering lines could enter the county from the north and tie into the Transco interstate pipeline. Two companies, Williams Field Services and PVR Partners — formerly Chief Gathering — have recently built gathering lines tapping into the Transco in Luzerne County, and UGI Energy Services is planning a third. All take different routes.
Company representatives said the company would be limited in that ability because gathering pipelines are not regulated by the FERC, and because, as an “open-access pipeline,” Transco must accept gas from any company that wishes to tap into the line. But Gibbons asked that the company at least provide some guidance, and said he would make comments on the company's FERC application to that end.
“I think Luzerne County would expect that (because) you're a permanent entity here in the county (you would) help with that planning effort,” Gibbons said. “I think it may be a little out of your jurisdiction, but I think it's something that should be coordinated.”