Energy industry leaders and government officials, from EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, want more infrastructure now. Natural gas production in Pennsylvania’s share of the Marcellus went from less than 10 million cubic feet in 2008 to nearly 2 trillion in the first six months of 2014 alone. But pipelines such as Williams’ Transco system, built in the 1950s, were designed to move natural gas into Pennsylvania and the Northeast Corridor, not from this area.
Updating and reversing flow on some existing lines has taken several years. Building lines from scratch takes at least three years with federal permitting. So a glut of gas commanding low prices remains in Appalachia while utilities struggle to fuel gas-fired power plants in New England and the Southeast.
“I don’t think many companies want to go through the polar vortex again,” said Dominion spokesman Jim Norvelle, echoing a oft-repeated warning about near-blackouts caused by gas shortages during a January cold spell.
Companies hesitated to sink billions into the necessary land, pipes and stations until they had firm commitments from producers, who needed buyers such as power plants and terminals — which also take years to build — on the other end.
Now, the big build-out is on.
“It places a lot of emphasis on putting infrastructure in the ground in a very efficient and responsive manner,” Stockton said.
“Right now, there’s a need to expedite that, because you have this window where the supply and demand are there.”
To accommodate all that pipe, Corbett asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — which must approve interstate pipelines — to “seek coordination to the greatest extent possible among … proposed pipeline projects.”
Stockton and Norvelle said project planning always begins with looking at chances to “co-locate” the pipeline with other utilities, where the land has already been cleared or a river bridged. It’s cheaper than so-called greenfield construction and less likely to impact people and land, they said.
That doesn’t satisfy some opponents.
“Just because there was a pre-existing cut doesn’t mean there’s no harm,” said Maya van Rossum, head of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and an opponent of natural gas development who has fought pipeline plans. She said rights of way get wider with each addition, causing more run-off and potential damage to surrounding land.
“It’s a mildly better option, but not a good solution,” she said.
Through lawsuits and community organizing, the network has pushed companies to avoid environmentally sensitive areas and do more comprehensive planning.
Companies say they’re listening.
Williams moved about 20 percent of its initial planned route for Atlantic Sunrise based on feedback and finding it would cross areas such as the Tucquan Glen Nature Preserve in Lancaster County, Stockton said.
Henderson said the state is trying to help mediate community concerns with pipeline companies to find compromises.
“If it’s ‘Just say no,’ whoever is loudest and most organized might just shift it to another community,” he said.