Friday, May 10, 2013

Millennium Pipeline Floats Upstate North-South Natural Gas Connector

Yet another chance for New York's anti-development forces to say "not in my backyard," even while thousands of Upstate residents, businesses, and institutions — including Whitney Point, NY, my hometown — continue to have no competitive consumer-level energy options other than electricity, trucked-in fuel oil/propane, or the joys of firewood.

The developer — a consortium known as Millennium, which includes National Grid as a member, and which already controls the main west-east pipeline through New York's Southern Tier — floated trial balloons on this 60-mile south-north natural gas pipeline plan on May 9-10, 2013.  Unsurprisingly, no mainstream or web-based outlets have so far gone to the trouble of posting the map, which to me is the most interesting thing.  So I dug it out myself.

Right now, and for the rest of the month of May, Millennium is just shopping for enough transmission customers to justify building at least a 24-inch diameter line.  If there's more than enough interest, the pipe could go bigger.  On the other hand, if there's not enough need — measured exclusively by the private sector, according to future flow commitments — then this thing could easily die an early death, and we in New York can go back to our regularly scheduled programming.

The project is going to go by either the dull name Phase 1, or the somewhat more descriptive North-South Upstate Pipeline Connector.  The concept — the same as several other already built, building, or proposed plans — is to get around the Northeast U.S. west-east bottleneck by sliding burgeoning WV-OH-PA shale gas production to open west-east pipeline capacity to the north.  Big city markets in New York and New England would be very quietly using up most of it, although I suppose the politically testy natural gas exports angle could be a factor in the long run (no such proposals have been put forth yet in the Northeast).

From a very provincial perspective, but one that happens to be very important to me,
this pipeline could put an end to that sorry lack of energy choices in small towns in the Tioughnioga River valley.  But I'm already certain that this pipeline plan is going to turn into another branch of the larger political fight over shale gas, regardless of what New York State ever winds up deciding (or failing to decide) on this issue, so far as its own citizens' undeveloped resources are concerned.

I know there are always winners and losers in politics, but this kind of reflexive conflict in New York State is getting ridiculous.

At this point, I think I would welcome an activism-imbued township, somewhere along this route, seeking to naively try enforcing a ban on not only all localized drilling, but also through-transport of fossil fuels by pipeline.  Such a "Home Rule"-inspired ban should eventually be crushed under the principles of federally protected interstate commerce.

(But, then again, maybe not.  Maybe the balkanization of New York continues and prevails, no matter what the long-term up-shot of all this might be.)

We've already seen in New York, at least for the time-being, that "Home Rule" is capable of both politically and legally trumping long-standing private property rights, much to the dismay of local landowners who mistakenly thought they still held onto something constitutionally protected against popularly inflamed confiscation.  My hope would be that pushing "Home Rule" to the next level should expose the fact that it's really just "States Rights" for green reactionaries, where provincial interests go too far by getting in the hair of the larger public interest.

Reading further between the lines of Millennium's announcement (which you can peruse for yourself here):

"Millennium has executed a Memorandum of Understanding with the owner of an existing pipeline and the related right of way associated with that pipeline.  Millennium has completed a preliminary constructability assessment of the right of way and has conducted a review of the property records underlying that right of way and has determined that the right of way for the proposed extension is usable from both a constructability and land rights perspective."

Translation:  To minimize the impact, the pipeline planners want to "co-locate" this natural gas pipeline alongside an already built, refined and liquid fossil fuels pipeline (which should be familiar to locals on the ground with its orange or yellow markers).  To my knowledge, this should be the Sunoco Corporation's 8-inch line, which moves refined product from Philadelphia, PA, to an end point in Brewerton, NY.  This is historically known as the "Sun Pipe Line," and probably dates from, like, the 1930's.

Question:  Does the developer actually propose it won't have to pay host landowners to expand the use of these old easements — because it's going in as a sub-tenant under open-ended boilerplate language in these old documents?  That's not a good start, and I sure hope not.  They're going to have a big enough fight on their hands, as it is.

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