Natural gas pipeline route goes through Amherst and Milford

MILFORD – Energy giant Kinder Morgan’s new preferred route for a natural gas pipeline would follow existing power lines through Milford and Amherst and go through tunnels under the Souhegan and Merrimack rivers as part of a 70-mile New Hampshire route through 17 towns.

In Milford, about 50 landowners would be affected and in Amherst about 66, said Mike Lennon, the company’s right-of-way manager for Massachusetts and New Hampshire, during a meeting in The Cabinet offices Tuesday morning.

“The goal is to stay next to the power lines all the way,” said Allen Fore, Kinder Morgan’s vice-president of public affairs. Three Kinder Morgan representatives also spoke with Milford and Amherst town officials on Tuesday morning.

Fore said open houses will be held in the middle of January at dates to be determined, and there will be public hearings on the state and federal levels, with a goal of beginning construction in the fall of 2016 and finishing in the first quarter of 2018.

“It is a long process with a lot of public discourse,” he said.

Landowners who would be affected by the pipeline will soon receive letters, and talks with individual landowners will begin in January.

Annual tax benefits for Amherst would be about $510,000 and for Milford about $428,000, said company representatives.

Kinder Morgan is the owner of the Tennessee Pipeline Co. A previous preferred route, across Northern Massachusetts with a connector pipeline up into New Hampshire, met strong resistance from Hollis and communities in Massachusetts.

Locally the new preferred route passes through Mason before entering Milford near its border with Brookline. Then it crosses northern Brookline, re-enters southeastern Milford and then extends through Amherst and Merrimack on its way to Londonderry where it heads back down to Massachusetts.

Plans also call for a tunnel to be bored underneath the Merrimack River near the Anheuser-
Busch plant, and under the Souhegan River near Souhegan High School.

Drilling would be under bedrock, up to 30 to 40 feet under the river, and would avoid all sensitive environmental features, Lennon said.

A major deviation from the PSNH power line occurs around Souhegan High School and Amherst Middle School, where the power line cuts through school property. The proposed pipeline route, which may still change, maneuvers north around the schools.

The route shown on maps includes a 400-foot-wide path, although the pipeline will only require a 50-foot-wide right-of-way, with a 100-foot-wide area needed during construction.

The tunnels to carry the pipelines underneath the rivers are included in initial maps prepared by the company. Most of the pipeline’s 76-mile path in New Hampshire would run under or alongside existing Public Service of New Hampshire power lines, but in a few places it deviates from the PSNH right-of-way.

The company’s proposal includes a 10-inch-
diameter, buried pipeline, called a lateral, in Mason. It would connect with the interstate pipeline near Starch Mill Road and run south through Mason into Massachusetts, where it would connect with another pipeline. This route does not follow a power line.

The public hearings in January and February are to gather reaction to the plan, which would bring the buried pipeline into New Hampshire from Massachusetts near the Vermont border, then cut east-west across southern New Hampshire to connect with an existing pipeline network, called the Concord Lateral, in Londonderry.

“The route is not settled,” Fore said. “People can present other options, present other thoughts. … We will file (with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) next fall, and we want to address the issues up front, so when the permitting process goes ahead, issues will be addressed.”

The new route through New Hampshire will make natural gas more available for areas of south central and southwest New Hampshire that do not have it, said Curtis Cole, director of business development for Kinder Morgan.

Currently, New Hampshire natural gas pipelines run no further west than Milford, where a Liberty Utilities pipeline ends. Keene has a small stand-alone gas network served by trucks, which Liberty Utilities is buying.

“There are parts of Massachusetts where businesses want the pipeline. They’re saying, look what’s happened – now it’s up in New Hampshire,” Cole said.

New England’s increasing dependence on natural gas to produce electricity – about half the region’s power plants now run on gas rather than coal, hydropower or nuclear energy – has led to shortages during the winter, when much of the supply is diverted for heating buildings. This has caused electricity prices to spike. Prices from several utilities are slated to rise by one-third to one-half this winter because it will be so expensive to buy natural gas to create the electricity.

Opponents of the pipeline plan argue that the several billion dollar cost could instead be spent to create a next-generation power system, with energy storage, load shifting, alternative energy sources, microgrids and other technologies that would have less environmental effect and be cheaper in the long run.

The New England Energy Direct gas pipeline, either 30 or 36 inches in diameter, would carry more than a billion cubic feet of gas a day, pressurized to 1,460 pounds per square inch.

It could open early as 2018, although many obstacles still must be overcome. It must get approval from the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee as well as FERC.

The 76-mile New Hampshire portion of the route, plus 5 miles of the lateral connection in Mason, will cost at least $700 million. It is part of a roughly $5 billion expansion that connects back into existing Kinder-Morgan pipeline networks in New York state, and would bring oil from the Marcellus shale formation in that state and Pennsylvania.

Kinder Morgan isn’t the only company working to get the vast supplies of Marcellus gas into New England.

The 124-mile Constitution Pipeline by a consortium of companies, which would connect pipelines in Pennsylvania and New York State, just got FERC approval and may be operating by next year. And Kinder-Morgan rival Spectra Energy Corp. is seeking federal approval to expand its existing Algonquin pipeline through Connecticut to eastern Massachusetts, also aimed at importing more Marcellus gas into New England.

Digging tunnels completely underneath rivers is an accepted practice for pipeline construction, using horizontal drilling technology that has improved greatly in recent years.

State and federal regulators will review all the plans will either accept, reject or modify them, Fore said. “It’s a heavily regulated process.”

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashua Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 304, or kcleveland@