Gas gathering: Discussion revolves around buried lines

NORWICH – The number of questions raised about natural gas gathering lines during a meeting of regional government officials in Norwich last week surprised an invited speaker from the New York State Public Service Commission.

PSC Deputy Director James Austin said he “had no idea there were this many concerns out there” regarding the smallest of buried pipelines. Austin spoke before the Chenango, Otsego, Delaware, Madison Regional Natural Gas Collaborative at the Chenango County Office Building Jan. 20.

New York State holds issues of environmental safety “very high” compared to other states, he said, before outlining a tiered system of gas line construction regulations that are meant to control and minimize soil, water and air impacts.

But the law, described within the PSC’s Article 7, requires oversight only on natural gas pipelines that are more than 124 Pounds per Square Inch of pressure and longer than 1,000 feet. The estimated 50 miles of infrastructure buried between wells in the towns of Smyrna, Preston and Plymouth, and future line planned for construction this summer in Coventry, are, for the most part, exempt from the agency’s oversight, he confirmed.

The group’s meetings are held monthly to arm government officials with the information they need to keep abreast of the natural gas exploration and production, either planned or already underway in the region. Norse Energy, Inc., Gastem, Inc. and other companies are actively leasing land in the four-county area for wells and pipeline easements, and testing, drilling, and even producing natural gas in some places.

Norse Energy, the company most active in Chenango County, is currently awaiting PSC review for a longer, higher pressure pipeline it plans to build to connect gathering lines from multiple wells in the northern part of the county to the company’s compressor station in Madison County, Austin confirmed. But, other than that, none of Norse’s - or any company’s - infrastructure below 125 PSI is regulated.

Town of Smyrna Supervisor James B. Bays expressed frustration that some gathering lines in his town had been placed only 2 to 4 feet under what he considered to be “a very sensitive environmental area.” The area, located along Cole Road, is a sizable wetland, or bog, he said.

“How does the state reconcile that kind of fast tracking of pipeline through this kind of environment? I assumed it had some sort of review,” Bays said.

Austin explained that once a project’s construction involves one acre or more, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation regulations come into play, such as storm water protection and wetlands reviews. That oversight might require, for example, that the line to be buried with a directional bore rather than in a cut and a trench, he said.

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