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Pipeline planners say delay is possible

The completion date for the proposed Constitution Pipeline could be delayed as a result of environmental review timetable issued by federal regulators, a spokeswoman for the project developers acknowledged Friday.

Christopher Stockton, spokesman for Houston-based Williams Partners, the lead investor in the nearly $700-million project, said the in-service date for the natural gas transmission system could be delayed past the original March 2015 target date as a result of the review schedule of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

While the target for getting the pipeline turned on remains March 2015, the projected wrap-up date remains under evaluation, he said in response to questions posed by The Daily Star.

His statement, along with an announcement by another investor in the project, Cabot Oil and Gas Corp., were the first public acknowledgements by the pipeline developers that the March 2015 completion date may not be achieved.

In a Dec. 19 announcement, Cabot — which is heavily involved in hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in Pennsylvania — downplayed the impact on the company should the Constitution Pipeline be delayed.

“…Any delay in the timing of in-service will not affect Cabot’s anticipated production growth in 2015 due to our diversity of takeaway options and the ample amount of lead time we have to plan around any schedule changes,” Cabot said then.

The company added: “We will continue to evaluate all opportunities to add incremental takeaway capacity, regardless of whether the timing of Constitution Pipeline’s in-service date is altered.”

The proposed pipeline would cut a 124-mile swath across fields, farms and forests at it connects Pennsylvania drilling operations to existing pipelines in Schoharie County. The project has stirred up considerable opposition from landowners who have refused to allow the engineers to conduct land surveys. But many other owners have acquiesced to the request for land access, and some have signed contracts giving easement rights to the company.

Anne Marie Garti of East Meredith, one of the founders of Stop the Pipeline, said her group has argued for months that there is no way the developers could achieve the March 2015 in-service date given the significant environmental questions surrounding the project.

She also argued the project developers have been misleading the public by contending the aim of the Constitution Pipeline is to send natural gas to the New England and metropolitan New York City regions.

“If Cabot can earn four times more by exporting the gas, they are not going to sell it in the U.S.,” Garti said.

Cabot, in the same announcement where it acknowledged the pipeline completion could face delays, also discussed its plan to supply LNG to Japanese consumers after executing a gas sale agreement with Pacific Summit Energy LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Sumitomo Corp.

“We are extremely excited to be partnering with Sumitomo to provide a long-term source of natural gas to the Cove Point LNG facility and ultimately to the people of Japan,” Dan O. Dinges, Cabot’s president and chairman said in a statement.

Asked whether Donges’ statement could suggest that the gas carried by the Constitution Pipeline could also be destined for international export, Stockton said the Cabot plans involving the Cove Point plant in Maryland “are totally independent of the Constitution Pipeline.”

“As we’ve stated before, the gas transported by Constitution Pipeline will be delivered to customers served by the Iroquois and Tennessee Gas Pipeline systems,” Stockton said. “There are no natural gas LNG export terminals in this region.”

The Donges statement also noted Cabot has reached a new gross production record in the Marcellus shale region of 1.5 billion cubic feet (Bcf) per day — a level he said represents a 50 percent increase in just a year. ___

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