Staff of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission have issued a final Environmental Impact Statement for a proposed natural gas transmission project connecting New York and New England. In that report, Commission staff found that Algonquin Gas Transmission, LLC's Algonquin Incremental Market Project would result in some adverse environmental impacts, but that most of these impacts could be mitigated and reduced to less-than-significant levels.
Algonquin Gas Transmission, LLC -- a subsidiary of Spectra Energy Partners, LP -- already owns a natural gas pipeline and transmission network running from the Texas Eastern Transmission system in New Jersey to the Maritimes & Northeast system near Boston.
In 2014, Algonquin proposed the Algonquin Incremental Market project. The AIM project's would provide firm transportation service of 342,000 dekatherms per day of natural gas to local distribution companies and municipal utilities in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. Algonquin’s stated objectives for the Project are:
- to provide the pipeline capacity necessary to transport additional natural gas supplies to meet the immediate and future load growth demands of local gas utilities in southern New England;
- eliminate capacity constraints on existing pipeline systems in New York State and southern New England;
- provide access to growing natural gas supply areas in the Northeast region to increase competition and reduce volatility in natural gas pricing in southern New England;
- improve existing compressor station emissions through the replacement of existing compressor units with new, efficient units; and
- provide the additional service by November 2016.
As envisioned by Algonquin, the project will include the construction and operation of about 37.4 miles of natural gas pipeline in New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. The project entails replacing some segments of existing pipeline, extending an existing loop pipeline to increase the system's capacity to ship gas, and installing some new pipeline. It also includes modifications to six existing compressor stations, modifying existing meter and regulating stations, and the construction of 3 new meter and regulation stations.
Under federal law, Algonquin needs authorization from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to construct and operate the AIM project. Algonquin filed its application to the FERC on February 28, 2014. As part of the FERC's review process, the National Environmental Policy Act requires the agency to analyze and document the environmental effects of proposed federal actions such as granting Algonquin's application.
In Algonquin's case, that documentation took the form of a Final Environmental Impact Statement issued by the FERC staff today. In the final EIS, FERC's environmental analysts conclude that construction and operation of the AIM project would result in some adverse environmental impacts. However, FERC staff found that most of these impacts would be reduced to less-than-significant levels with the implementation of mitigation measures and plans proposed by Algonquin, along with additional measures recommended by the FERC staff. Staff pointed to factors including the degree to which proposed AIM project pipeline facilities would be within or adjacent to existing rights-of-way, the planned use of the horizontal directional drill method to cross the Hudson and Still Rivers, which would avoid any direct impacts on these resources, as well as plans to minimize impacts on natural and cultural resources during construction and operation of the Project.
With the final Environmental Impact Statement issued, the FERC Commissioners will consider its staff's recommendations in making a final a decision on the AIM project. Multiple studies have highlighted the need for up to 2 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) of new pipeline capacity into New England and neighboring markets to improve reliability and reduce the cost to consumers of electricity and natural gas. At a planned size of 342,000 dekatherms (or 0.342 Bcf) per day, the AIM project is relatively small in capacity compared to other proposed projects such as Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, L.L.P.'s proposed Northeast Energy Direct Project, which is designed to be scalable up to 1.2 to 2.2 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas capacity. Which pipelines end up being approved and built will shape the New England energy landscape in the coming years.