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Massachusetts attorney general seeks deeper review of need for natural gas projects in constrained area

Washington — The Massachusetts attorney general wants the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to delve deeper into whether a small Tennessee Gas Pipeline expansion is needed and how it would impact the state's ability to meet its greenhouse gas emissions goals.

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The filing is another sign states are flexing their muscles in the natural gas permitting process in New England, where a sometimes constrained pipeline system coincides with a challenging regulatory climate for projects.

CONSTRAINED AREA

At issue is Tennessee's 261 Upgrade Projects, which target a constraint at compressor stations 260 to 261 on the TGP system, which would aid the shipping of gas to the Boston metropolitan area.

Flow data compiled by S&P Global Platts shows the segment running at or near capacity on peak demand days, climbing above 1 Bcf/d at times out of a capacity of 1.1 Bcf/d. The incremental 72 MMcf/d of capacity could help temper price blowouts in Massachusetts and Connecticut during times of high demand.

The projects, targeting a November 1, 2020, in-service date, entail 2.1 miles of additional 12-inch-diameter looping pipeline as well as a compressor station upgrade in Agawam, Massachusetts (CP19-7).

In a Friday filing, Attorney General Maura Healey urged FERC to look beyond the precedent agreements TGP has secured to evaluate projected gas demand in the greater Springfield, Massachusetts, market, and to consider projected growth in renewable energy and energy efficiency measures.

She also asked FERC to analyze robustly all reasonable alternatives including "reduced gas use, non-gas alternatives and a no build alternative."

Healey is part of a group of state AGs that has sought a revamp of FERC's approach to its pipeline permitting policy.

CLEAN ENERGY GOALS

"The AGO is committed to a clean energy future in Massachusetts built around cleaner, renewable energy sources that allow the Commonwealth to achieve regional and federal climate goals, as well as to meet the greenhouse gas emission reduction mandates of the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act," she said in the filing.

The call for increased scrutiny comes as gas projects have become increasingly difficult to develop in New England.

Two major greenfield projects were pulled in recent years, and some smaller projects have faced long state permitting delays.

Explosions last September on the Columbia Gas distribution system in the Merrimack Valley in Massachusetts also factored into the comments at FERC.

Some environmental groups contend a subsequent moratorium on much of the Columbia work raised questions about whether Columbia would be able to proceed with expansion plans and thus need added capacity on the Tennessee system.

In pressing FERC to examine the need, Healey noted that less than two-thirds of the proposed capacity is subscribed through precedent agreements, primarily with Columbia Gas of Massachusetts. She asked FERC to consider improvements already under consideration by Columbia.

Healey also waded into the debate over how far FERC should go in considering GHG emissions. The projects' cumulative GHG impacts should be evaluated to ensure they do not impair the state's ability to meet its emissions mandates under Massachusetts law calling for a 25% reduction from 1990 levels by 2020 and an 80% drop by 2050, the AG said. FERC must fully assess methane emissions from wellhead to burner tip, the AG added, including assessing potential for leaks and blowdowns.

Healey also pressed FERC to ensure its approval is conditioned on full compliance with the state's wetlands and endangered species regulations. And she urged FERC to address the potential for inappropriate segmentation of its environmental review from other nearby gas projects.

-- Maya Weber, maya.weber@spglobal.com

-- Grant Gunter, newsdesk@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Keiron Greenhalgh, newsdesk@spglobal.com