The pipes that energy companies need to move record amounts of natural gas from Pennsylvania shale to profitable markets run between 36 inches and 42 inches wide.
The line companies must walk between the rush to build and trampling over communities in their path can be much narrower.
“It’s a balancing act,” said Chris Stockton, spokesman for Tulsa-based Williams Co., which operates 15,000 miles of interstate natural gas pipelines and wants to build several extensions, including the 124-mile Constitution Pipeline from the Marcellus shale to New York.
“We naturally try to avoid impacts on people and the environment.”
Pipeline builders have dedicated billions of dollars for numerous projects to help alleviate a supply backup of Marcellus shale gas — infrastructure that will help the industry satisfy growing demand but has created tension with local communities.
Companies say they try to be good neighbors by hosting public meetings before they file plans with federal regulators, choosing existing rights of way to limit the utilities’ footprints and avoiding areas full of either homes or sensitive natural areas.
“Any time we look at an expansion project, we look for ways to minimize the impact,” said Jeffrey L. Keister, director of business development for Richmond-based Dominion Transmission, which plans to build the 550-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline from West Virginia to North Carolina.
Even Gov. Tom Corbett, a vocal supporter of the industry, recently asked federal regulators and Williams to tread carefully through Pennsylvania farmland with the company’s Atlantic Sunrise project.
“We have this resource, they need to get it to market, and in doing so, they need to cross a lot of backyards,” said Patrick Henderson, Corbett’s energy executive and deputy chief of staff. “There are some competing interests.”
But clearing 100-foot-wide swaths through the rolling hills of Appalachia to bury enormous pipes 2 or 3 feet below ground is a messy business. Emotions run high at public hearings, especially in communities where environmental groups opposed to natural gas development have mobilized. Lawsuits and arguments with property owners are common.
“I want the gas companies to drill out here. That will make a lot of money for the state. But if they came back, and I had a choice, I’d want to say ‘No.’ ” said Joe Seibel, 63, who watched this year as contractors replaced a Dominion line across the front of his huge front yard in Salem, Westmoreland County, near several compression stations around Delmont. “I can see why people fight it.”
Routing lines through farmland, forest and neighborhoods takes “a colossal compromise between all those competing needs,” said M. Elise Hyland, executive vice president for midstream operations at Downtown-based EQT Corp., which is partnering with NextEra Energy to build the 330-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline. “We spend a lot of time on the routes.”
Landmen hired by companies work with individual property owners to accommodate requests, Hyland said.
The heat is squarely on pipeline builders as they try to balance community concerns against the growing pressure — and need — to address the gas transmission issue.