Status Update: Massachusetts' New Gas Pipeline Projects

By Cathy Kristofferson and Emily Kirkland

Over the last year, the Massachusetts climate movement has made tremendous progress in stopping new fossil fuel infrastructure all over the state. With so much happening all the time -- announcements, press conferences, court decisions -- it can be difficult to keep track of what’s going on! That’s why we’ve put together this guide to the current status of each pipeline project.

Note: On September 6, Canadian company Enbridge Energy purchased Spectra for $28 billion. It remains to be seen what effect, if any, this will have on Spectra's Massachusetts projects. 

Spectra Energy’s West Roxbury Lateral - Under Construction

The West Roxbury Lateral (which is part of Spectra Energy’s Algonquin Incremental Market expansion, also known as AIM) is currently under construction in West Roxbury. The project includes several miles of new high-pressure gas pipeline, along with a new metering and regulating station across the street from an active blasting quarry. Resist the Pipeline has been leading a months-long campaign of civil disobedience to stop construction, which is still ongoing; to date, more than 180 people have been arrested. The project is scheduled to be operational in early November, and currently pipeline construction is approaching the metering station. The Cities of Boston and Dedham have sued to stop the project but it is unclear when their case will be heard.

The WRL is unaffected by the Supreme Judicial Court's August pipeline tax ruling, as it is funded by local gas distribution companies (sometimes abbreviated as LDCs) who have signed long-term contracts to buy the gas, which they will sell directly to consumers for heating and cooking. Boston Gas and Colonial Gas, two subsidiaries of National Grid, are among the LDCs that are customers of the West Roxbury Lateral; Resist the Pipeline has been calling on National Grid to #CancelTheContract to eliminate the need for the pipeline.

Spectra Energy’s Atlantic Bridge

The Spectra Atlantic Bridge project is under FERC review. In Massachusetts, the Atlantic Bridge project has been reduced to the Weymouth compressor station. The project is not directly affected by the pipeline tax ruling but project opponents are collectively hopeful that the pipeline tax ruling makes the  project much less palatable. In a way, Atlantic Bridge is like a Trojan Horse; Spectra is using it to test the waters and lay groundwork for their Access Northeast project, which will include a significant expansion of the Weymouth compressor.

The Weymouth Conservation Commission recently denied Spectra’s wetlands permit -- a decision which Spectra has now appealed to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. Additionally, the MA Office of Coastal Zone Management agency proposed a stay on the project, which Spectra accepted (rather than face a likely denial from CZM).The stay has the potential to last a full year.

It’s possible that if Atlantic Bridge continues, the compressor station could be moved to Holbrooke or another part of Weymouth. If that happens, it could push the project back by as much as two years.

Spectra Energy’s Access Northeast

The Spectra Access Northeast project is in the pre-file process with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, meaning that FERC and Spectra are gathering the information necessary for formal filing for a FERC certificate.

The entire Access Northeast project was designed on the assumption that Spectra would be able to pay for it using a “pipeline tax" on Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut electric ratepayers.  Now, the pipeline tax has been ruled illegal in Massachusetts, and National Grid and Eversource have both withdrawn their petitions to buy gas from Spectra using the struck down pipeline tax scheme -- all signs that Access Northeast is in trouble. Although the Supreme Judicial Court ruling striking down the pipeline tax only affects the MA contracts, Maine’s approval was explicitly conditional on the other New England states approving the pipeline tax. RI’s and NH’s decisions about the pipeline tax may also be impacted by the MA ruling.

That said, the project IS still alive. Spectra, NatGrid and Eversource are scheming to find alternative ways to fund it (and alternative ways to demonstrate to FERC that there is demand for the gas). And Governor Charlie Baker and Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matt Beaton continue to push for a new natural gas pipeline into the region. 

Kinder Morgan’s Connecticut Expansion

The Kinder Morgan Connecticut Expansion pipeline, 3.8 miles of which are in Sandisfield, MA (half on private, half on public land in Otis State Forest), has received its Federal Energy Regulatory Commission certificate and all but a couple of the required state and federal permits. A “10 citizen” appeal was filed with Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection for the issued 401 Water Quality certificate. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection failed to issue a certificate so KM needs a waiver which they are still waiting on. They also still need 404 from the Army Corps, and a Notice to Proceed from FERC before tree felling.

Kinder Morgan’s Northeast Energy Direct

The Kinder Morgan Northeast Energy Direct is (still) dead! The SJC ruling helps to keep it that way by ensuring that the pipeline tax won’t be used to revive this unnecessary and under-subscribed project. The Berkshire Gas moratorium that was reliant on NED coming online is under review at the Department of Public Utilities (part of Docket 16-103 BG’s Forecast and Supply Plan). A public hearing was held on 8/30 in Greenfield. Berkshire Gas appears to be pushing for new and/or expanded gas infrastructure from Kinder Morgan to fill their forecasted need, though no specifics have been identified.