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Next round of US pipeline buildout will be difficult, Williams Cos. exec says

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Next round of US pipeline buildout will be difficult, Williams Cos. exec says

Construction of the next round of pipelines that would carry natural gas from U.S. supply basins to market will likely be more challenging and expensive than the build-out underway, a top U.S. pipeline developer said Oct. 15.

Chad Zamarin, senior vice president of corporate strategic development for Williams Cos. Inc., speaking at the North American Gas Forum sponsored by Energy Dialogues, said recent pipeline expansions in the U.S. Northeast mostly involved repurposing infrastructure, for instance by adding compression and facilities modifications, which allows for efficient expansion. The Northeast produces about 25-27 Bcf/d, potentially expanding to 42 Bcf/d in the next five years, he said.

Williams' Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co. LLC has gone from about 10 Bcf/d in gas transportation capacity five years ago to more than 17 Bcf/d today, and it is expected to surpass 20 Bcf/d by the end of the decade, Zamarin said. But he suggested the sector is "running out of low-hanging fruit."

Permian challenges

The Permian Basin has tremendous potential for associated gas, but transportation routes to the West, Mid-Continent and Mexico are mostly filled up, requiring more greenfield pipelines to get to Gulf Coast demand centers, Zamarin said. There is a need for one 450-mile, 42-inch-diameter pipeline every two years in the next 10 years to achieve the takeaway capacity necessary to keep the basin growing, he said.

"The next round of expansion is very expensive and very challenging," he said.

Clay Bretches, president and CEO of Sendero Midstream Partners LP, said new infrastructure is also needed out of the Delaware Basin in New Mexico to accommodate the building plans of well-capitalized producers that have come into the area in the last two years. But he pointed to a combination of private, state and federal land in the area that can slow permitting and thwart new drilling.

"The federal government regulations cause us the most delay," Bretches said. The need to produce oil without flaring gas means the government must move faster, he said. Speedier federal permitting would prevent the burden from falling on state and local land, he said.

Bretches noted that right-of-way and siting requirements can cause it to take 12 to 18 months to get pipe into the ground, "which is much too late to get product to the market."

EPA action

Another speaker said the Trump administration might soon take action on states' use of their Clean Water Act authorities to restrict natural gas infrastructure. Mike Catanzaro, a partner at the lobbying firm CGCN Group, who previously handled energy issues for President Donald Trump's National Economic Council, said he expected the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would soon put out guidance to provide greater clarity on how states apply Clean Water Act Section 401 to "narrow its focus a bit."

Catanzaro expected "the regulated community will probably be happy with that."

Republican senators have asked the EPA to look into whether new Clean Water Act guidance is needed to check what the senators consider to be abuses by some states in attempts to stop gas pipelines and other infrastructure. The senators have urged EPA to take steps to review its handbook on Section 401 and other materials.

Maya Weber is a reporter for S&P Global Platts, which like S&P Global Market Intelligence, is owned by S&P Global Inc.