Could pipeline plan be revived?; NED project suspended after protests

MILFORD – Last April, Kinder Morgan announced it would suspend plans for a gas pipeline that would have gone through 17 southern New Hampshire towns, and residents and town officials who had been fighting the plans breathed a sigh of relief.

The 188-mile Northeast Energy Direct (NED) project would have taken gas from Pennsylvania through New York, western Massachusetts and 71 miles of southern New Hampshire – 17 towns, including Amherst, Brookline, Merrimack and Milford.

The plans had sparked intense local opposition since it was proposed late in 2014.

In announcing the project’s suspension, the Texas-based energy giant said it was because of “inadequate capacity commitments from prospective customers.”

But now that President Donald Trump has cleared the way for two blocked oil pipeline projects and set in motion a plan to curb regulations that slow other projects, people are wondering if the NED pipeline could be resuscitated.

Amherst was one of the towns that mounted heavy resistance, and it succeeded in getting the route moved to less sensitive areas of town.

John D’Angelo, who headed the Amherst Pipeline Task Force, said in an email that the project could be restarted if new customers appear, but that it’s unlikely.

“Kinder Morgan canceled the NED pipeline not because of opposition from communities along its route, but because after two years of trying to find customers for the gas, they were unable to sell more than 40 percent of the (reduced) pipeline’s capacity,” D’Angelo wrote. “The FERC has never approved a pipeline with that little capacity pre-sold, and NED was not going to be the first.

“Having said that, should new customers appear, including companies that might want to convert gas to LNG and export it, or export gas to Canada, then KM might consider starting over.”

Marilyn Learner, an anti-pipeline activist from Hollis, said she thinks anything is possible.

“Making sure that ‘capacity commitments’ remain problematic is key,” she said. “Liberty Utilities in New Hampshire continues to try to increase their customer base.”

Learner points to Liberty Utilities’ recent purchase of Concord Steam, a small utility that provides steam-generated heat to state offices in the capital city. All 25 state office buildings and the Statehouse will have to convert from steam heat to natural gas, supplied by Liberty Utilities.

Learner said there is also legislation being proposed to dumb down the state Site Evaluation Committee’s pipeline siting requirements.

“The beast has not gone away,” Learner said. “It is merely regrouping. We don’t yet know what its reincarnated form will be.”

Last week, Richard Wheatley, a spokesman for Kinder Morgan, repeated what his company said last year: “We did not have the volume of customer commitments” to continue. But, he told The Cabinet, “We are continually assessing opportunities for growth and infrastructure projects.”

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.