Vermont Gas expects to start pipeline project June 1

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Vermont Gas expects to start pipeline project June 1

Tue, 05/06/2014 - 3:32pm -- tim

by John Herrick Vermont’s natural gas utility has hired a contractor and plans to break ground June 1 on its pipeline extension down the western side of the state.

Vermont Gas Systems intends to build a 41-mile, $86.6 million natural gas pipeline extension through Addison County to connect service in Chittenden and Franklin counties to Middlebury. The company expects the project to be completed by next year.

Vermont Gas also has applied to state regulators for the second phase of the pipeline expansion, which would connect Middlebury to the International Paper mill in Ticonderoga, N.Y. The second phase of the expansion would move the utility closer to completing its final proposed extension to Rutland, the company said.

Governor Peter Shumlin said last week it is “critical” to bring natural gas to Rutland.

“I am respectful of the conversation about our need to get off of fossil fuels altogether,” Shumlin said, “but my view is, as a realist, if we can move Vermonters from dirty No. 2 oil that’s heating their homes and powering their business to much more affordable, cleaner natural gas, it’s good for our pocketbooks, it’s good for our environment, it’s good for climate change and it’s good for our future.”

Shumlin said he agrees with what he called President Barack Obama’s “all-of-the-above” renewable energy strategy, including using natural gas as a bridge to wean the nation off other fossil fuels.

Vermont Gas President and CEO Don Gilbert spoke at a news conference in Williston on Monday to announce a contract with an engineering company to construct the first phase of the company's pipeline extension. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Vermont Gas President and CEO Don Gilbert spoke at a news conference in Williston on Monday. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Vermont Gas President and CEO Don Gilbert said Monday natural gas saves businesses and residents money and has cut the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 23 percent when compared to other fossil fuels.

But environmental groups say extracting natural gas through the process of hydraulic fracturing – known as fracking – causes environmental damage to the landscape and atmosphere.

The Vermont Public Interest Research Group says fracking is inconsistent with the state’s renewable energy goal of sourcing 90 percent of its energy from renewables by 2050.

Vermont banned the process of hydraulic fracturing within the state in 2012 through Act 152, making it the first in the nation to do so.
Gilbert said the company does not know how much of its gas is sourced from fracked wells.

“It’s not possible to separate out and determine exactly what the amounts are,” he said.

Gilbert said the company is considering providing customers with the option to purchase locally produced biomethane, a gas emitted during the digestion of organic material that burns like natural gas.

“If they have concerns about using hydraulically fractured gas, then we would be very interested in providing them an option to be able to use locally produced, renewable natural gas that’s been produced here in Vermont.”

State regulators gave the company the go-ahead to build the project last year, but approximately 50 percent of the 222 landowners along the proposed route have not reached right-of-way agreements with the company, Gilbert said.

The Department of Public Service asked Vermont Gas to communicate directly with landowners this year after contracted land agents alarmed residents with letters citing the company’s right to use eminent domain to take their property. The company said Monday it has secured the first 10 miles of the pipeline’s right-of-way with property owners.

The company in April requested a protective agreement to keep secret documents related to its application for the second phase of the extension plan. The agreement would keep certain documents exempt from public disclosure if approved by state regulators. The Department of Public Service, which represents state ratepayers, supports the agreement.

“We work very hard to be open with all the information we can,” Gilbert said. “There are some cases where businesses don’t want information disclosed that would be sensitive to their competitive position.”

The company signed a multimillion dollar contract with Engineers Construction Inc., a Vermont company that has worked with Vermont Gas, to do the horizontal directional drilling at more than 17 locations along the first phase of the pipeline route.

The entire pipeline will be buried 3- to 5-feet below ground, the company said. The drilling technique is designed to dodge environmentally sensitive areas along the pipeline route, including archeological and wetland sites.

TOP PHOTO: Ken Pidgeon, president of Engineers Construction Inc., which Vermont Gas hired for the first phase of its Addison County pipeline extension, demonstrated the process of horizontal directional drilling at a news conference in Williston on Monday. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger