Amherst study: Gas pipeline accidents are extremely rare

AMHERST – Members of the town’s pipeline task force asked representatives from Kinder Morgan Tuesday to change the company’s natural gas pipeline route through Amherst to avoid residential neighborhoods and sensitive natural areas.

Energy company representatives told the committee they would consider the suggestions to move the route south to the area of the Bon Terrain Industrial Park and possibly parallel to the railroad tracks or parallel to Route 101A.

Meanwhile, a report from the task force’s subcommittee studying pipeline hazards released this week concluded that major accidents are “extremely rare.” Another subcommittee report, on the pipeline’s economic impact, concluded that effects are uncertain, but Kinder Morgan’s claims that property values will not go down are “either flawed or do not have much relevance” to Amherst.

The subject of Tuesday’s afternoon meeting was the current Kinder Morgan proposal for a four-mile long gas transmission line that follows the electric power line right of ways, except where it avoids Souhegan High School and veers up through the Simeon Wilson Road and Thornton Ferry Road II area. It also goes through Ponemah Bog and other conservation areas and traverses the Souhegan River in four places, all places the task force wants it to avoid.

The Texas-based company wants to put the 36-inch wide pipeline through 17 southern New Hampshire towns, including Milford, Amherst and Merrimack, part of its Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline bringing gas from the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania to Dracut, Mass.

At the Tuesday session in the selectmen’s meeting room Kinder Morgan people sat with task force members with a large map of Amherst showing sensitive areas blacked out.

The purpose, said Amherst Selectman John D’Angelo, was to find the least damaging alternative.

“There are less troublesome routes to get you from Milford to Merrimack,” he said.

Because such a major change in the Amherst route would affect its eastern neighbor, Merrimack officials attended the meeting and listened as company officials talked about possibly running the route near Continental Boulevard. Right now the proposed path goes through the Horse Hill Nature Preserve in Merrimack and other conservation areas.

A representative from the Merrimack Village Water District, which provides water to most of the town, wanted to know if the pipeline could one day be converted to bring oil instead of natural gas, and he was told that could not happen without regulatory approval.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as well as the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee must sign off on the pipeline project, and Kinder Morgan project manager Mark Hamarich told task force members that he would sit with them in late May or early June, before Kinder Morgan files its route plan with FERC in July,

“That doesn’t mean there won’t still be changes,” he said, but by August the route should be locked in.

Benefit to town?

Marilyn Peterman, who is on the Amherst Planning Board, told company representatives that if they want to make progress they have to convince people there would be some benefit to Amherst.

Safety is a major concern among residents who live near the proposed route, and the report from the task force’s hazards committee released this week, just prior to the Tuesday meeting, estimated that, using data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the typical expected time between incidents in Amherst is 11,200 years. And between fatalities it would be 27,800 years.

“The central message from these data is that major accidents resulting in injury or death are very rare,” the report said. “and in terms of incidents per mile of pipeline, the probability of an incident in a specific location is exceedingly low.”

Both reports are on the town website, along with a third report on the extraction and transport of natural gas.