The company managing the Marcellus Shale gas pipeline that runs through Luzerne County is poised to expand the line again. On Sept. 30, Williams, the Texas-based company that owns the Transco pipeline, filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to expand its Leidy Line, which delivers gas from central Pennsylvania to customers from New York City to Alabama. Williams’ application for the project, the Southeast Expansion, is an important milestone in the filing process that began in January. If approved, it would mean new pipeline infrastructure in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including a total of 16.74 miles of 42-inch pipe in Luzerne and Monroe counties. “The project will provide firm market access to new sources of gas supply being developed in North Central Pennsylvania, which is experiencing a dramatic increase in natural gas production,” the application states.
One 11.47-mile-loop would run through Buck, Tunkhannock and Tobyhanna townships in Monroe and Luzerne counties. This loop would run parallel to two existing lines. The other loop, 5.27 miles long, would run through Conyngham, Dorrance and Slocum townships in Luzerne, alongside three existing lines. The loops will affect about 180 landowners, Transco spokesman Chris Stockton said.
Transco also intends to put in a new 16,000-horsepower compressor unit at its Compression Station 515 in Buck Township in Luzerne County and two compressors with a combined horsepower of 33,400 at station 517 in Columbia County. The project also includes a new 20,500-horsepower compressor at station 520 in Lycoming County.
For most of the Transco’s existence, gas flowed northerly from wells in the Gulf of Mexico to consumers on the East Coast. The pipeline is the longest natural gas pipeline in the continental U.S. According to Transco documents, its main line extends 1,775 miles, from near Harlingen, Texas, north to New York City. Its first two parallel lines were built in 1949 and 1951. Since Pennsylvania’s gas boom, pipelines throughout the Atlantic Seaboard are expanding to accept more of the commonwealth’s gas, Stockton said. “Pennsylvania is becoming like the new Gulf of Mexico,” he said.
But it takes more than an abundant gas supply to build an interstate pipeline. Williams must prove to FERC that the market demands enough gas to justify the expansion. In April 2012, the firm posted an open season at www.1line.williams.com. The following gas companies then entered into binding precedent agreements:
Capitol Energy Ventures Corp. for 20,000 dekatherms a day.
South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. for 40,000 dekatherms a day.
Anadarko Energy Services Co. 50,000 dekatherms a day.
MMGS Inc. for 50,000 dekatherms a day.
Piedmont Natural Gas Co. for 100,000 dekatherms a day.
Public Service Co. of North Carolina, Inc. for 100,000 dekatherms a day.
Washington Gas Light Co. for 165,000 dekatherms a day.
This adds up to 525,000 dekatherms per day. A therm is a unit of energy tied to a unit of volume. One therm is roughly equal to the heat energy from burning 100 cubic feet of natural gas. This means the expansion will add 52.5 million cubic feet of gas per day, enough to fill about 22,000, 40-foot shipping containers. Williams says this is enough to heat 2 million homes. If the FERC approves the project, construction on the compressor stations should begin in fall 2014 and on the pipelines in spring 2015. Transco plans to complete the project by December 2015.
Last spring, Transco held public meetings and open houses in Wilkes-Barre and Pocono Manor and three communities in New Jersey. After Williams made a presentation to Luzerne County officials, Joseph Gibbons, Luzerne’s former chief engineer, submitted comments to the FERC in March. He offered suggestions to the commission that would help the county deal with potential side-effects from the pipeline.”We are very concerned about the impact of this project and future projects on our residents, infrastructure and environment by the seemingly continuous expansions of storage ‘loop’ lines,” Gibbons wrote. Gibbons suggested the commission require further dialogue with county governments. Gibbons said the commission should set up a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes program to offset impacts on infrastructure and the environment. Transco’s application states it plans to pay a total of $15,000 to local governments in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for building and environmental permits. Gibbons also thought the commission should require Transco to file an annual permit with the county that defines the pipeline’s condition and upcoming maintenance work.
The FERC never followed up on these comments, he said. He left his job with the county in May and moved away from the region, but he still owns a house in Luzerne County. Transco submitted a socioeconomic analysis of the affected counties as part of its application. The company estimates the loops in Luzerne and Monroe counties will require a workforce of 767, with construction starting in March 2014 and lasting seven to 10 months. The company also estimates 154 jobs will be needed for nine months at the three compressor stations in Luzerne, Columbia and Lycoming counties. Transco anticipates that at least half of the construction workforce will consist of local labor hired by union contractors, according to its application.
The Southeast Expansion application comes as Transco finishes work on another expansion of the Leidy Line, which it dubbed the Northeast Supply Link project. That project involved pipeline and compressor station work in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, including 5.39 miles of 42-inch pipe loops in Lycoming and Monroe counties. Transco completed these loops in August and is finishing its work on the compressor stations, Stockton said. On Sept. 27, the company ended its open season for its Atlantic Sunrise project, another Leidy Line expansion that could add between 425,000 and 1 million dekatherms per day by 2017.