LEHMAN TWP. — For the first time since the Transcontinental Pipeline was built in the 1950s to transport gas from the Gulf of Mexico region to New York City, operators need to send gas the other way.
The Atlantic Sunrise Project, a $3 billion expansion of mostly existing routes will enable Williams, the Tulsa, Oklahoma, based company that operates the 300,000 mile pipeline system (Transco), to ship natural gas harvested by the Marcellus Shale industry to the South.
Williams representatives held the first of 10 open houses at Lake-Lehman High School Tuesday night to get feedback from the public and explain details of the project that is estimated to pass through 154 properties in Luzerne County.
The expansion will enable Williams to transport an additional 1.7 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day and includes:
• 56 miles of 30-inch pipeline from Susquehanna County to Columbia County. This pipeline will pass through Ross, Lake, Fairmount, Lehman and Dallas townships in Luzerne County.
• Two new compressor stations, one in Susquehanna and another in Columbia County;
• 121 miles of new 42-inch pipeline from Columbia County to Lancaster County;
• Upgrades to about 20 compressor stations in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia that will provide force to carry gas south.
Williams Transco Spokesman Christopher Stockton said the open house and election day coincided by accident when planners were scheduling a series of 10 identical events in counties where the pipeline is to travel. They had extended the event from 8 to 9 p.m. in hopes more folks would be able to vote and visit the exhibit.
Mostly property owners whose land is to be intersected by the pipeline shuffled around the tables poring over large maps that detailed the route guided by more than two dozen Williams surveyors and engineers.
FERC approval first
Williams first must receive a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) before it can expand or modify its facilities.
Still in the pre-filing stages, Williams must prove it has sufficient need to build the pipeline and that its construction will bring no significant environmental impact.
The open houses also are required by FERC.
With pledges and contracts for gas from Marcellus shale drillers, the Atlantic Sunrise is at 100 percent capacity, according to Jennifer Kerrigan, FERC’s project manager for Atlantic Sunrise.
At this time, there are no apparent environmental impacts that would prevent the project from moving forward. Because it is still very early in the planning process, it’s too soon to rule out a significant environmental barrier, Lindsay Grissom, a FERC consultant, said.
Williams plans to file a formal application with FERC some time next year and tentatively complete the project in 2017.
Pipelines require property easements from individual landowners.
Williams pays two to three times the assessed value for the land where it installs pipelines to encourage landowners to sign on quickly, Stockton said.
If a landowner denies the company an easement, a judge may award the land through eminent domain laws.
Stockton said they work to avoid eminent domain and, out of all their projects, about 5 percent of them have needed legal action to obtain easements. Lawsuits mean greater expense in lawyer fees and construction delays.
If Williams must use eminent domain, the judge decides the price, which is typically the assessed value of the property, Stockton said.
The easement proffers a one-time payment, and Williams also may pay owners for land use while the pipelines are installed.
It seemed most of the folks gathering in the Lake-Lehman gym felt indifferent about the new pipelines.
Much of the proposed route through Luzerne County travels along existing Transco lines that have been there for nearly 50 years.
Ralph Green and his wife, Diane, of Lehman Township said they have no problem with the line crossing their property.
“I just want to know how we can get natural gas supplied to our home,” Diane Green said.
The proposed pipeline is a transmission line, not a distribution line. No new customers may be added because of its construction.
Chuck Lane of Lake Township said he has known Williams Transco to work transparently in the community.
Richard Sutton and his wife, Esther, of Lehman said Richard’s grandfather owned their property when the first lines were put in. Now they ride their all-terrain vehicles on the clearing where the pipeline runs. The expansion does not concern them.
The proposed route breaks from existing lines for about seven miles through Dallas Township.
Mary Rodriguez, a township zoning hearing board member and an outspoken opponent of natural gas drilling, said the pipeline will not come near her property, but it would require clearing through pristine forests in the township, a fact she found distressing.
Stockton said the old pipeline gives folks in the area familiarity with Williams. Because the company has less visibility in southern counties, Stockton anticipates a little more opposition, he said.
“The tone of this meeting will be very different from the tone we will see further south,” Stockton said.